Ok, so 2 days ago, as I was having breakfast, my 5 year old looks up at me and tells me -just like that, out of the blue, no preparation, nothing -…he just threw it out there: “Mom, you know that in Orlando, a guy had a gun and shot many people”. Gulp. That’s all I heard, as I almost choked on my morning yogurt and granola. Dad on the other hand dropped the spatula as he was cooking some eggs. Ok, people, so please SOS, HELP, what do you say when your kid says that to you? How do you answer that (even though he didn’t formulate a question)? What to say? I admit, I was quiet, my mind was blank, for about 10 seconds. I didn’t know what to say.
How do you explain such evil doing to a pre k boy!?? To any kid!? Dad, is very much of the philosophy of answering a question with another question, so he goes “Who told you that?” “What exactly did he tell you?”. He said his friend ____ told him, and that he said just that, that a guy killed many people with a gun. Mannn, so tough to hear this from your kid. All you want for your children is to feel safe, protected, part of a pretty world of rainbows, glittery hearts, stars and good people. And then this tragedy occurs, and just like that, it shakes your world upside down, because it’s hard for an adult to cope with these images, with such suffering; so how can we explain it to a child? I don’t even understand it myself, I don’t get how there can be a person with such hatred inside him, that can hurt others as this guy did. I still can’t get over this event. I am still shaken. And so, the only thing I managed to mumble to my son was “Mi amor, this is something awful that happened, it was a bad guy, a sick guy and this is a terrible tragedy for our world, and we are very sad over this”. I couldn’t say anything else, I just couldn’t, words didn’t come out. And he was apparently fine and went back to playing with his lego without any further questions.
But, as this happened, it then got me thinking…what is the best way to explain a tragedy to a child? And so I started reading a little and found a few thoughts that I think were helpful:
- Be truthful– Children need to understand what is happening around them to feel secure. Provide them with facts about what happened and acknowledge it was a terrible and frightening event. Help them to see that we share their feelings.
- Encourage any questions– Ensure your child feels as though they can approach you to ask questions as much as they need. Sometimes a child will process a tragic event much later and come back to you again for more discussion. Remind them that questions are welcome.
- Feelings are normal– Some children may take a while to get over tragic events and that is perfectly normal. Allow them to cry if they need to and show their emotions. Share your feelings about what happened with them. Help your kids to verbalize their feelings with you. Secure them with a warm cuddle and remind them that they are safe. Keep things in perspective and remind them that not all people are harmful towards others.
The words we use to explain such dreadful events are of course, relative, depending on the age of our child, but one thing is a common denominator, no matter the age of the child: it is important to make sure they feel safe, to show them affections and reassure them their world is safe; allow them to talk about it and how the feel and answer their questions honestly trying to give them peace of mind. But talk about it, don’t avoid the topic. And foremost, what I choose to do is teach my kids love, tolerance and respect for others and for the differences we may have. I hope this sticks in their little minds for life.
I would love to hear from you, how do you choose to explain these circumstances to your kids? How do you engage into a conversation of this type? HELP. I am grateful for any advice you may have.
May there be more love in our world and less hate.