As hard as it may seem to turn something as horrific as the tragic shooting at Fort Hood into a teachable moment with our kids, it can be done. And it should be done: we can’t assume that kids won’t hear about these events simply because we monitor their viewing of the television in our own homes. Our kids also live in a world where their friends may be discussing these events on the school yard, or they may hear it or see it at one of their peers’ homes. That is why it is imperative that we discuss, in age-appropriate ways, the major events in our society with our kids.
â€¢ First, don’t assume they don’t know about the tragic event. Not talking about it does not protect them. In fact, if they do know but you don’t discuss it with them, they may feel it is so taboo that it makes you silent and unavailable. This passively can make your kids feel that if there is something “taboo,” they should not talk about it with you.
â€¢ Appear “Askable” to your kids. You want to communicate to your kids that it is okay and safe to discuss tragic and frightening events. Listening to what they think and feel about the event is very important for them to process their fears or concerns. Getting your children to express what they know and think about the event can also help you clear up any confusion or misunderstandings they might have. It is important that they feel safe to ask you questions and trust you will give them answers to the best of your ability.
â€¢ Share your feelings with your kids. Once you are discussing the tragic event, let your kids know your feelings about what has happened. It helps normalize their feelings. You can tell them how you deal with these feelings, and even together come up with ways to deal with these feelings of anger or sadness. Look for feelings beyond fear. Kids will also feel anger, sadness, and concern for others. It is important to support their feelings of empathy.
â€¢ Encourage creative outlets for expressing feelings. Children may not be comfortable or skilled with words to express their feelings, especially around difficult situations. Using art, puppets, or music can help children process their painful or disturbing feelings. Kids may want to draw pictures and then destroy them.
â€¢ Take action and get involved in something together. They may want to make cards for the families of the victims. Be open and flexible and listen. It can be very healing to take action such as donating food to a shelter or writing a letter to someone involved in the tragedy. Kids who see parents and teachers working to make a difference in the face of a tragic event feel hope. This will help them feel safer and more positive about the future.
â€¢ Reassure young children that they are safe. Provide extra comfort if they are feeling clingy because of the event. Answer their questions in general terms, with the emphasis on their safety.
â€¢ Provide realistic assurance: Don’t tell them bad things will never happen to them. They know that is false. You can say things such as “Adults are working very hard to make things safe.” Discuss ways that you and they can protect themselves — knowing how to react, for instance, to a stranger who may want to hurt them. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” This will help keep the discussion honest and open, and allow your kids to feel they can come to you because you will be truthful with them.
â€¢ Because adolescents will for sure be exposed to the events, make sure you make time to openly discuss their feelings. Do not avoid the topic because it is uncomfortable. They will also turn to their peers for information and support, which means it is imperative that you check out what they know to make sure they have the correct information. Keep these lines of communication open and check in with them regularly.