This is one of those blogs I wish I never had to write. Truth be told, I am still processing the news of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting. Given the situation, however, we need a way to speak with our kids about this senseless tragedy. My youngest, Skylar, likes to watch the news and is very politically-inclined. It was just a matter of time before she came across the situation in Uvalde. I wanted to ensure that her Dad and I were the ones delivering this information to her.
When talking to your little ones, use age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate language. If they heard about the shooting already from those around them or a news outlet, inquire as to what they do know so far. Establish a jumping-off point and then do what you can to fill in the blanks. Most importantly, however, let your kids know they are safe. Reassure your children that this is over. Give them the facts as you have them (and acknowledge when you do not) and do not overshare. Limit access to social media and news channels if necessary. Images tend to stick in their minds more so than words, so monitor what they are seeing. If they are of age to be able to watch the news with you, do so as a family.
Answer their questions:
There will be questions – lots and lots of questions. Before I could even get the story out, Skylar was already inquiring about it. Have them save their questions until you have finished and then let them ask whatever is on their mind. Ask them for their thoughts on what happened. Ask them how they feel about the shooting. Explain that there may be lots of different emotions that run through them and that it is all okay. As more information unfolds over the next few days/weeks, they will have more questions. Checkin in with them emotionally, listen to their concerns, and answer to the best of your ability. Let them know they are heard.
Process your own reactions:
As parents, your initial instinct is to protect your children and make things better for them. There are times, however, when the gruesomeness of reality will hit hard and you will be unable to shield them from it. Kids model behavior from their parents- it is how they learn to walk, talk, and engage with the world. But parents, too, need time to process their own grief and anger. Make sure to take that time for yourself. Once you have had your initial reaction, let your little ones see how you work through it. Be transparent with them. They need to know it is ok to be vulnerable and that it is a necessary part of healing.
Honor the fallen:
Let your children know something good can come from this. Sit with your child and figure out how they can be a part of the healing. What can you do to honor those who have been lost? Brainstorm a way they can help the community rebuild after this tragedy. Depending on their age, this may include letter-writing to residents within the community or an elected official, or fund-raising. Help them take an active role in the aftermath.
As the weeks progress, we will be inundated with images and information on this horror. Be open and accessible to your little ones. Encourage questions and discussion. Above all, manage their fear and let them know they are safe. And, if you need assistance negotiating these tough discussions, reach out to a professional for guidance.