I hate to have to write this blog. (And yes, I mean the strength of that word HATE.) Another and another and another mass shooting? I am spinning, filled with horror, disgust, and tremendous despondency. I am desperately searching for answers.
A parent reached out yesterday, begging for a script for talking with her now high school age children. The majority of my previous blogs about tragic events (and I have written 23 of them, found under the category SAFETY), are directed at parents of young children. These younger ones live a sheltered life, away from the flow of news. But what do you say to your older child? Middle and high schoolers live in a bigger world, exposed to the news as it happens. Their iPhones and social media update them constantly. What about these big kids who get it?
So as to be inclusive of all age children, tips for talking with young and elementary school age children about such heinous tragedies, in the unlikely event that they have heard about it, can be found at https://betsybrownbraun.com/2015/11/15/talking-to-your-child-about-the-paris-attacks/
Every parent on this earth wants to keep his child safe, regardless of age. But as reality has proven, we cannot promise our children that they are safe, that tragedy will never strike them or us or their friends. That is the world we live in today. The frequency with which these horrific mass shootings are happening, as well as the internet speed sharing of news, make them seem closer and a possible danger for us. No longer can we reassure our big children that the shooting was far far away, that we in America are safe, or that Mommy and Daddy will keep you safe.
As much as we would like to prepare the path our children will walk, making life safe and stress free, the saying for which I am known (Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child) is more applicable than ever. We need to help our older children to see the world realistically, to find a way to live in that world each doing his part to make it a better place.
Here are some guidelines for helping your older child to process the El Paso and Dayton massacres.
Communicate! Be a family who talks about stuff. While you cannot possibly eliminate all your child’s fears and anxiety, know that talking helps. Take advantage of a natural time (when younger children are not present) to discuss the events. Share your own feelings. Wonder out loud. Most of all, give your child plenty of space to talk about the massacres and anything else that is on his mind.
Respond to his comments without judgement of any kind. Acknowledge and validate any feelings he shares—most of all fear and worry. The idea is for your child to feel heard, creating a safe environment for self-expression
Some kids are talkers; some aren’t. If need be, you bring up the topic. “What are the kids at school saying about the shooting in El Paso?” Taking the magnifying glass off of the child and talking about peers’ feelings can be more effective.
This is not a one-time conversation. Even if your child is not participating when you talk with your partner, he is processing what you say. You are creating an environment where he can talk, if and when he feels like it.
Tackle some deeper questions…if the time is right. Invite your child to ponder with you the hard questions. What can be done about mental illness? What do different people think about gun control? Might violent video games and other media that depicts violence affect what some people think and how they behave?
You are your child’s most powerful model. Now is the time to reinforce and communicate your own beliefs. Whether it is gun use, violence, or racism, your child is paying attention especially when you are not talking to him. You are your child’s moral barometer. And he is watching you. Remember, he hears your side comments, sees your rolling eyes, copies the derogatory labels you let fly, taking his moral cues from you. This one is on you.
Separate your own beliefs and morals from some of life’s realities. Let your child know that while you believe that people should be good and kind—that you believe in the Golden Rule—sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. While most people are good, there are some people who are not. It’s the law of averages.
Emphasize the good in the world. Explain the reality that the speed and reach of the internet make it seem like bad things are happening all the time and close by. The reality is that, they really are the exception. Help your child know that most people are good; most people are mentally sound and know the difference between right and wrong. Help him to understand the odds.
Share your frustration. Your child can know how frustrated and sad you feel that you can’t make this world safe for him. Remind him that when he was young you could keep him safe because his rope was very short. Now that he is growing up, he has a longer rope and he is exposed to more of the world’s problems.
Help your child to be positive and pro-active. Every day and especially in trying times, practicing kindness and goodness helps children to focus on the positive side of things, the good in the world. Being pro-active goes a long way towards feeling less vulnerable, less out of control and helpless. This would be the time to encourage your child to organize fund raisers or collections for the victims or to find ways to stand up for what he believes. Not only does taking action focus on the good but it is how change begins.