Saturday, December 15, 2012

Talking to Your Kids About Sandy Hook

A parent asked me today how to talk to her son about the tragic school shooting here in our small home state. He's already freaked out by school and the thought of someone stealing him thanks to the joys of being six years old in 2012. Kids today are exposed to levels of hatred and violence there is simply no excuse or precedent for. Throughout history children have borne witness to and carried the scars from brushes with the adult world's evil. Forever changed they grow into adults who know the depths of depravity a human being is capable of. They walk among us with wise eyes and quietly carry the burden of guilt and memory only those who survive a catastrophic event can understand. Survivors survive. We call them survivors because they will carry this inside them for life. Eventually the brain and the body will work together to knit a protective scar over the horrors they have seen but the horror will come up to haunt them forever.

Still others of us are blessed enough to have traveled through life without more than glimpses of what the worst could look like. For that we should all take a moment and say Thank You - to God or the Universe or whatever higher power you connect with.

You have to talk to your kids about this. And you have to protect them from seeing the news, newspaper, blogs, Facebook, whatever. They have seen and heard enough. Secondary traumatization is what can happen when we are exposed to graphic scenes or images over and over and over again. If adults can suffer from it - and without doubt we are all grieving right now - children will suffer from it that much more. Children are truly not able to comprehend the immensity of what happened this morning when a 20-year old gunman walked into a school and murdered 20 students, six teachers, his mother (at her home), then killed himself. As an adult I can hardly wrap my head around it. It's still soaking in and I wish that it wouldn't.

Ask your kids if they have any questions before you start talking. Listen to them. Let them find their own words - words have power, let your children find their voices. Expect to hear questions such as  "Can this happen to me?" "What if that happens here?" "Am I safe? Is my school safe?" "What would you do if that happened to me?" "Why did that guy kill those people?" "Were those kids bad?"

Stay calm, keep your voice neutral and assure them, over and over, that they are safe. Their school is safe. This is a one in a million event. The bad guy is dead. We have police and firemen and hospitals and doctors here to keep us safe. Their school will be making new ways to keep them safe. We don't know why that man did that. Sometimes people do bad things and we never find out why but what's most important is that we remember those who were hurt by those bad things.  We love the children who were lost. We never, ever, say kids are bad. There's no such thing as a bad kid and the kids in that school did everything they were supposed to do. They followed their teachers instructions and they had parents and siblings and friends who loved them very much. Just as much as we love you.

Don't allow the kids to perseverate on the topic. We are going to talk about this one time tonight then we are going to make popcorn and watch a movie or read a book. We can talk about it tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that if you have to. We'll be here. You'll be here with us. We'll be together every day forever and you will always be safe and loved with us.

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