While we learn the details of the Sutherland Springs church shooting on Sunday, we adults think about gun violence, mental illness and politics. We mourn, we rage, we give, we worry and, of course, our children are watching us. They can feel that something is not right. They can sense something has happened. And for older children, they will see and hear details that could be very confusing.
If they are like my children, they will ask questions, they will want to know what happened, and they will demand explanations. But one thing I have learned about my two boys is all they really want to know are two things:
- They are Safe.
- The World is Good.
If I can assure them that they are safe and the world is good, then they won’t need to know how many people died, who the shooter was and what was his motivation. They will know I am there for them, and all the adults they know and love will protect them, and even though the world contains great pain, it is good. It is deeply good.
So that is what happened this morning. On the way to school, we talked about the shooting. I told them that the subject would probably come up that day. I told them people were killed, and we don’t know all the information yet to know about why it happened. I told them people around the world are sending love and healing prayers to Texas. I also told them they did not need to listen to other people’s opinions if they didn’t want to. Because people will have opinions.
My boys are 15 and 12 so I can give them information and reassurances, but they also have heard many stories over the years that help them feel safe and reassure them the world is good. I want this for them because the truth is – right now – they are safe. And I deeply know, though there is great pain, the world is good.
But for young children, explanations might not reassure them. Instead, consider telling them a story.
Over the last few years, we have produced a number of stories designed to give parents context and a starting point for challenging conversations. Instead of taking on the subject of church shooting directly, I recommend finding a suitable metaphor your child understands. Something more local, but still serious. You can talk about sudden tragedy in the natural world – like the loss of a chicken to a fox – or the death of a neighbor’s cat by a coyote. Terrible, confusing – and yet, a few steps removed from the terror that is a mass shooting.
The story we created after the Newtown school shooting was called “Prince” and it was about a young girl named Lee, who loves her little black dog Prince. But one day, Prince is suddenly killed by a speeding car. The girl not only has to come to grips with the abrupt loss of her dog, but she also manages questions like “Who was it? Why didn’t they stop? How could they do it?”. And the ultimate message from her loving parents is this: We love you. It is OK to be sad. We are holding you. And we will do everything we can to prevent this from happening again.
Another story we offer is called “Denny and the Could Be” which is all about the insidious nature of imagining what “could” happen. Rumors, exaggerations, fearful stories, and even simple wonderings have “Could Bees” buzzing around in them. Luckily Mr. James, Denny’s kindergarten teacher, has a way of shooing those Could Bees away. These two stories can be streamed on this article we posted after the Manchester bombing.
Consider how you want your child to feel in the world – and then develop a series of stories to help reinforce that feeling. Include the reality that things happen – difficult and sad things happen – and yet, we recover, we heal, we help those in need and continue on.
The truth is, children are remarkably good at this. They are naturally resilient and able to recover faster than grown ups. But do remember, they are watching you and learning how the world works.
It is my opinion they will better be able to maintain their natural resiliency and optimism when they know deep down … they are safe – and the world is good.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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