Talking to Your Children About Tragedies

sandy hook

Like me, I’m sure you’re all still reeling from the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. As the coverage unfolds of the heroes and helpers, causes arise from all sides and more questions than will ever be answered have been cast. It’s a somber way to enter the holidays – in prayer and petition for lives lost, hurting hearts, and the unknown of the coming year.

Amidst our own thoughts as parents we’ve got little ones relying on us for answers and protection. But how do we go about it in the right way? How do we answer their questions without giving them nightmares? How do we protect them from the world’s evil without sheltering them from all the good?

I won’t even attempt to offer professional advice, that’s not my gig, I’m just another mama weeping for the 26 families in Connecticut who’s lives have been shattered. But, I did want to share a number of helpful tips I’ve read about how to talk about tragedies with our children, because sadly this isn’t the first awful event in history, and although I hate to even type it, it won’t be the last. Learning how to talk about tragedy with our children is a balancing act like no other – don’t say too much but don’t say too little, give details but not too many, quell their fears while instilling compassion. See what I mean? Not to mention that every child is different in how they process information about tragedies.

So, from the experts and other seasoned mamas, take these nuggets of wisdom, use what you can, and leave the rest.

If there are kids under the age of thirteen at your house, your TV should stay off whenever there’s a public tragedy, or you’re repeatedly traumatizing your kids. – Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. - Mr Rogers

I don’t know why this happened. When trauma happens, the shock and emotion comes first. But not long after comes our human need to try to explain “why?” The reality is that often we cannot. The grieving person will likely have heard a lot of theories about why a trauma occurred. Sometimes it’s best not to add to the chorus, but to just acknowledge what you do not know. – Rev. Emily C. Heath on The Huffington Post

We can’t control other people and we can’t control the bad things that happen in our world. But we can start by treating those closest to us with love and respect- Elizabeth Esther

… a strategy that’s commonly used for anxiety in children: “worried thought, brave thought.” “We teach kids to counter a worried thought with a brave thought,” she said, and to “know that although the worried thought may come back, the brave thoughts are always there as well.” – Motherlode on The New York Times

Use language children will understand. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Young children need simple information they can understand and need to be reminded that they are safe. Older students will have questions and will need an opportunity to express their range of emotions. - Scholastic

If a child is frightened, determine the precise source of the fear. It may be a worry that their classroom isn’t safe; or about how to escape school when under threat. “If you say, ‘This bad man can’t hurt you,’ you’ve introduced another fear,” said Dr. Robert H. Abramovitz, a child psychiatrist at Hunter College. “Ask what their worst fear is, and address that. – Benedict Carey on The New York Times

When something happens that will get wide coverage, my first and most important suggestion is that you don’t delay telling your children about what’s happened: It’s much better for the child if you’re the one who tells her. – Harold S. Koplewicz, MD on Child Mind Institute

So let’s grieve together. And let’s give one another the space to be shocked, to be pissed, to appeal to God, to be angry with God, to find peace in God, to question God, to want to take action, to want to wait, to blame, to pray, to be afraid, to be speechless, to vent, to lament, to speak up, to be silent, to pull our families close to us, to need some time alone.Rachel Held Evans

“Worried thought, brave thought” is definitely the nugget I’m tucking away. I feel like I’ll be able to use it in many circumstances with my children, and for myself too! Also, each of the above quotes came from a very thorough and detailed article – for gobs more insight and wisdom on approaching tragedies with your children please read the complete article. I’ve gone back and forth with wanting to learn more and more about the Sandy Hook tragedy and wanting to close the door on the horribleness and forget about it, but in the end I’ve learned that the only way I can make sense from this tragedy is to find the beauty in the ashes; the bits of good that are coming from it. Whether it be the stories of bravery or the #26Acts campaign, there is good; I’m choosing to focus on that as my way of grieving.

How have you communicated about the Sandy Hook tragedy with your child(ren)? Share your thoughts and wisdom in the comments so we can learn from one another.

 

 

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