Helping Children Understand Tragic Events

The aftermath of the recent movie theater massacre in Colorado has left many parents, rightfully so, filled with a healthy dose of fear about the world we live in.

It’s difficult to imagine how simply going to see a movie could turn into a surreal scene that looks like something that could only occur in a third world country. The wake of this massacre has resurrected the 1999 wounds of Columbine, the shooting of Governor Gifford’s, as well as a host of other unfortunate events carried out by the hands of raving lunatics that have occurred around the world.

As parents watched the twin towers burn, or the clips from Columbine, or even the evening newsreel talking of the brutal killings that occurred just miles from their hometown, it is important to remember that children are also listening in the background. It is easy to think that a 2, 3, or 4-year-old child has no real understanding of what is happening on the television. It is easy to talk about these events around them without once helping them to understand what happened or what occurred out of fear that they are too young to understand anyways. And yet, as these events unfold in front of our eyes and ears on the television, with our children in the background playing with blocks or drawing in coloring books our children too are being affected. Helping children understand tragic events is an important lesson that needn’t be ignored. Even though we would like to shelter our children from the harsh realities of life, the truth is that we can do more harm than good when we choose to withhold or hide information from them.

Perhaps the next time you plan to take your child to the movies they will seem frightened or afraid because they have associated the movie theater with a place of violence. Your teen, having heard of Columbine, may have anxieties at school and wonder about his or her safety. Or, your children may realize in a quick way that corrupts their ability to feel safe and secure, that one day, some day something like this might happen to you or your family members.

Senseless acts of violence leave children and adults alike confused and dazed.

One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is to downplay, lie, or withhold information from their child. If your child, hearing of the news asks a question, experts agree that parents should give their child an age appropriate, relevant answer. When parents seem to shrug that something like this could ever happen close to home, or down play the tragedy for the sake of their children, children learn to mistrust their parents. They already see and feel the worry from the news or from overhearing conversations of adults. Hiding things from them will only lead to more anxiety.

Perhaps the best way to help kids understand tragedies is to ask them questions. Ask them how they feel, or what they think happened, so you as the parent, have an understanding of where their fears may be. Then, try to explain, using facts, what occurred in the particular incident. Parents should also use these discussions to empower children with appropriate knowledge of what they should (and should not) do in moments of emergency. This helps to ensure that young kids have some control over what is going on and helps to empower them.

It is also very important for parents to explain to kids how slim their chance of being victimized by a crime like this really is. Use age appropriate examples of crime statistics to help them regain their sense of security in the world. Children need to understand that the world we live in is generally safe rather than tragic, and that there are some horrible things that occur that we will never truly understand. Remind them how police officers and firefighters are working hard to protect them, and explain to them that the people who did these horrible things are off the streets and caught by authorities. Keep in mind that to a child, the fact that something occurred 750 miles away means very little. To them, it could feel as close as their backyard.

Depending on your beliefs, it is also advised for parents to allow children to pray for, or send well wishes to those that have been victimized by the crimes at hand. Allowing your child to send a card to a family that was victimized can help foster human compassion and give the child a sense of closure that they have in some manner ‘helped’ the situation.

Additionally, parents need to realize that there are some world events that children are not truly able to process. This massacre being one of them. If your child is very young, you should take precautions to change the television channel or avoid talking about the horrid events in front of your child as to not unnecessarily fill them with fear. Some conversations, and some happenings in the world truly should be saved for the eyes and ears of adults. While children may not understand the totality, permanence, or evilness behind a situation such as this they will directly absorb the fear and frenzy around them.

Sadly, what most kids will want to know is why? Why would someone do this? Why is there war? Why would one human kill another? Unfortunately, the answer to why is something that most of us, parents or not will never quite understand. Maybe it is our inability to understand why these things happen that sets us apart from the lunatics that carelessly kill and maim innocent moviegoers, kidnap children or harm people in any way.



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