Kids and Tragedy

  • Posted on December 15, 2012 at 12:25 am

Today there was a horrible tragedy in our country. This evening I had to tell my children about it. I could have skipped it, and just hoped they didn’t hear about it, but that wouldn’t be right. They will hear about it, somehow, somewhere, and I prefer they get the honest truth from me. I also want them to know that it’s ok to talk about the Big Things with Mom. And if they do have questions or concerns, I’m happy to talk about it with them.

And so it was, that I told my elementary school aged children that at another elementary school in our country, someone went in and shot and killed many people. I didn’t go into too many details, but was honest about what happened.

My kids reactions both did and didn’t surprise me. They both reacted in ways I expected. They asked questions, and I gave them honest answers, even if they were painful. I hugged them and told them that this is a rare event, and that I love them and glad they are safe.

My oldest, who is in fourth grade, asked how many people, and how many were kids. I told them what I knew.

My youngest, who is in first grade said, “but it wasn’t kindergarten or first grade, right?” I had to tell her that it was.

My oldest said, “But not the principal.” Yes, even the principal.

My youngest said, “But not the teacher.” Yes, even the teacher.

My oldest said, “He must not have seen the no-guns signs on the door.” I told them that people who are not ok and intent on hurting people don’t really care about signs or rules or laws.

We talked about how this is why they have “code red” drills at school, and how important it can be, in those rare situations. My oldest told me all the details of what they do during a “code red.” “Shut the lights off, lock the doors, and get to where you can’t be seen and stay quiet.” Yes, exactly, I replied.

“You can shoot open a locked door.” replied my first grader. Not much escapes that one. Or maybe she’s seen too many Mythbusters episodes.

“Yes, that’s true. That’s also why it’s important for the room to appear empty.” I said.

After a few minutes, and more hugs and cuddles, the kids moved on to other things. Before we moved on, I made clear to them that this was probably not a good topic of conversation amongst their friends later this evening, or over the weekend. I suggested they not bring it up with their friends, but told them they could come talk to me, or to the other adults in their life if they needed to. And if their friends bring it up, it’s ok, but it may also be good to bring a trusted adult into that conversation, since this subject is such a sad one.

At bedtime, we prayed as we always do, and added in some about asking God to care for those who hurt, and who are sad – for this tragedy and others.

My first grader, as soon as the prayer was over, asked me, “like the kids who got shot today?”
“Yes sweetie, for them and their friends and family.”

She paused a moment, while I cuddled with her, and petted her hair, as she likes for me to do. “Mommy? I feel like I’m about to burst into tears .”

Choking back my own, I replied, “Me too, sweetie. Me too. And that’s ok. It’s ok to cry because we’re sad. It was a very sad thing that happened.” And we hugged. And we cried. And after a few moments, we moved on to discuss other things before she drifted off to sleep.

I’m sure tomorrow will bring new questions. Many of which I won’t have answers to. And I won’t lie, and I won’t pretend I know things I don’t. I won’t shelter my kids from the truth, just because it is painful. Instead we will embrace it, learn what we can, and learn that life isn’t always great or perfect. Kids pick up and understand far more than we often give them credit for. I will teach them how to handle even the yucky stuff, because that is life. We won’t dwell on it, but we won’t ignore it either. And I will teach them that it’s ok to cry, and it’s ok to ask questions. And it is ok to move forward, and learn, and laugh and live, because that is what we do. We aren’t to be paralyzed by the fear of the “what if.” We learn from it and we move forward.

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