At 3:50 AM this morning I heard my son’s voice next to me, fresh from sleep, “I miss my sister. I miss my sister.” Mary Tyler Son is three. He was just shy of ten months when his sister Donna died. He has never before uttered these words, certainly not in the middle of the night. Tonight, after a full and lovely day together, full of cookies and long drives, and Hannukah celebrations and friends and a new Christmas tree, he rested his head on the table, next to his half eaten sandwich, and said, “I will miss my sister forever.”
My heart breaks for my son. Today my heart also breaks for twenty other families in Newtown, Connecticut. I have no idea how many brothers and sisters will now, too, utter the words of my young son. We know loss in our family, tragic loss. What we don’t know is the sudden loss of gun violence. Twenty families brought a little one to school this morning. Twenty families are putting one less child to bed tonight. This is shocking and senseless and becoming an all too familiar occurrence in America.
Right now I am watching the news for the first time today, my boy tucked away, sleeping, safe. My Dad just called and asks the very logical question as to why a mother in Connecticut owns such a variety of assault weapons. One of those weapons was used to shoot her today, before it was used to kill twenty children, six educators, and the shooter himself.
America, we have some issues. There were twenty-seven shooting victims today, but it feels like all of us are victimized by this kind of brutality.
Like many of us, I went to Facebook for news and support. It was grave, sober, quiet. People are in shock, speechless, scared, numb. I encouraged my MTM community to share what they would be discussing with their children. Responses ran the gamut from nothing, wanting to protect and shield the innocence of their children, to some fairly frank discussions with some very young children, parents wanting to be the one to direct the message their kids receive.
School is supposed to be safe. It just is. A day like today shatters that illusion of safety and order. A day like today calls everything we take for granted into question. A day like today scares us and our children. How can we discuss the events of Newtown when we don’t understand them ourselves? As parents, we are supposed to be the ones with answers. It is our responsibility to ensure the safety and well being of our children. Our children look to us to be their protectors.
We live in a world where gun violence is now common. School gun violence, becoming more so. Why that is is not something for this blog post to ponder. I am more worried about you, about all of us, and how we can continue to parent and help our children feel safe in this new world order where school gun violence is a fact of life.
My son is three. He is not aware of what happened in Newtown today. My husband and I are in agreement that we will not initiate discussion of today’s events or school violence with him right now. Should he hear of it, should he want to talk about it, we will address it. We will answer the questions he asks, and no others. We will not assume what he needs to hear, we will listen and respond and stress his safety. At three, we can protect him from this. Were he just a couple of years older, I am not so certain.
Children are smart and perceptive and intuitive. They sense our unease. They know when they are being hugged tighter, kissed more, treated, sugared, indulged. They might not know why, but they sense difference. They do.
For those children old enough to be aware, please understand that it is important for their concerns to be addressed. If you don’t understand it, there is no shame in that. How can any of us understand these actions? But do not let your fear or uncertainty about what to say keep you from tending to your child’s needs. Let them be your guide. Listen to them, watch them, talk to their teachers. Talk to them.
Turn the news off. Turn your own comments off about this matter when your young kids are present. Watch your language. “Monster, animal, sicko, beast” are just a few of the words I have heard today to describe the shooter. The language we use influences our children, too. Pay attention to what you are saying that your kids might be hearing. Find out what your child knows and address those things.
Here are a few resources that you can use to educate yourself or prepare for a discussion with your child. I know that many of you are hoping to avoid the discussion, at least for the weekend. That’s okay, if you are sheltering them from the news. Use the time. Think and prepare for what questions might arise next week when they return to school. Each of these has been reviewed by me and has the MTM thumbs up for being useful and on topic, and better yet, was provided by a fellow reader.
- Mr. Rogers advice for helping families discuss tragic events in the news, appropriate for Pre-K through elementary school students
- More Mr. Rogers, including a brief video, because we can all use more Mr. Rogers, appr0priate for Pre-K through elementary school students
- The American Psychological Association’s guide to discussing distress related to gun violence, appropriate for elementary through high school students
- A Sesame Street guide for disaster and emergencies, appropriate for ages 2-11
- Texas Children’s Hospital’s response to the Colorado Batman shootings, but also appropriate and useful for the Newtown shootings, geared towards the Pre-K crowd, but I found the info useful for children through elementary school age
- PBS Parents guide for “Talking With Kids About News,” appropriate from Pre-K through elementary school age
- University of Minnesota guide to “Talking to Your Children About Violence Against Kids,” appropriate from Pre-K – middle school
- “Talking to Your Kids About Violence and Disaster,” from the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, great discussion about trauma that is appropriate for children from Pre-K through high school age
- National Association of School Psychologist’s guide to discussing school violence with children, age appropriate for kids from Pre-K through high school age.