It feels like we just did this. And it’s very hard to have to do it yet again. Sharing our re-broken hearts and our care for strangers hurt by a violent tragedy.
Listening to and talking with kids to help process their feelings after a scary public event. Admitting to ourselves and our kids that terrible things happen without reason in our world. All this is daunting and exhausting for parents, especially when it means talking about actions we’d rather kids never, ever had to know anything about.
Most recently, before April 15, 2013, here in the U.S. it was the Steubenville, Ohio trial of teens found guilty of assaulting a girl. Before that it was the Chicago teen killed in a park only days after marching with her band at President Obama’s inauguration. Before that it was the Sandy Hook school attack.
Just listing those three events brings up a self-protective feeling of numbness in me. Just like the three events above, I didn’t personally know anyone hurt yesterday at the Boston Marathon finish line. So can’t I just ignore all the pain and unanswerable questions this brings up? Why not try to shield our kids from thinking about it if they don’t have a personal connection?
My answer, hard as it is, is that I can’t ignore the pain and questions. I can’t shut down my feelings and turn away from those who are scared by it. And I can’t support shielding most kids (older than five) from hearing about it either. Even though it will be difficult to talk about with them.
Here’s why. More than anything we parents and grandparents need to practice emotional honesty and resilience ourselves. And we need to allow our children the experiences to help them be resilient. Resilience is like a muscle that can only get stronger with use. This means allowing kids to feel sadness, fear, lack of control, frustration, failure, confusion, and a host of other unpleasant feelings.
Resilience comes from having those kinds of feelings and doing whatever’s needed to come through them to the other side and heal. Amazingly, most kids can do this on their own, even without adult help. But we don’t need to leave them alone with it. Resilience in kids is strengthened even more when there are adults who will listen to the feelings and help the child find ways to work through them.
This is how we can help our kids both keep their compassionate open hearts and be resilient. Then they can eventually think about, and do, what they can to change whatever can be changed to make our world safer, more fair, and more just.
Elizabeth Weise on USA Today and Sasha Emmons on iVillage give lots of specific tips on talking with kids about public tragedies that are age-appropriate and easy to use if you feel they fit your child.