How do we talk to our children about what happened in Las Vegas?
After a mass tragedy of any sort – a natural disaster, an act of terrorism, a mass shooting, people are shocked and generally appalled.
Oftentimes, we overexpose ourselves, and by extension, our children, to media coverage of such an event.
While we, as adults, may be able to process and cope with the constant influx of information that we receive about such a tragedy as it unfolds, we must remember that our children are not emotionally equipped to handle the information about these events in the same way that we are. To many of them, September 11, 2001, is a date in history that they learn about in school. They did not live through it and therefore cannot recall where they were when they first heard the news that an airplane had struck one of the Twin Towers.
Now, facing the largest mass shooting in our country’s history, we need to take our children’s hands and explain to them, in a way that is appropriate for their ages, what happened and how to process the information.
While infants do not process or understand the news, they do feel the emotions of the people around them, so if you are upset, your baby may act distressed as well.
However, older children process this news in different ways and as their protectors, it is our duty to help them understand this tragedy.
While I certainly do not have a degree in child psychology, I have raised two children and I know that when my children were in preschool, they did not understand the facts of specific events. They were scared if something bad came on the news because they thought that either they or people they loved were going to be hurt. They would have nightmares about the same thing happening again and again. It was at that point that I realized that I had little people in my house who I needed to shield from constant exposure to this information because they did not have the capability or capacity to properly process what happened.
As my children have grown older and are in school, their reactions to events of violence and terror have changed. I watched them both this morning, struggle to understand what was going on as I turned on the news. We were immediately inundated with news of the shooting that killed over 50 people and has sent over 400 people to various hospitals because one man had an automatic weapon and opened fire on a group of concert goers.
As I drove them to school, I looked over and saw my daughter crying.
I asked her why she was crying, and she said, “I’m sad because some bad man killed all of those people and I don’t understand why. I’m also scared because I don’t know if we are safe.”
I know that my children are prone to worry and are likely to be anxious about serious events such as these, so I made sure to couch my response with limited information regarding the events, as I knew of them at the time. I made sure, however, to include facts and reassure them that they are in fact safe and that there are many, MANY people who dedicate their lives to protecting all of us and keeping us safe.
Professionals who assist children and teens who struggle to make sense of such tragedies suggest that as parents, we do the following:
- Limit media exposure. The media will repeatedly show the same footage as they report on what has happened and as they gain new information as the evidence behind the event unfolds. Children do not need, and many cannot process, this constant exposure to traumatic events.
- Be open and honest with them. Children are probably going to have questions as they process what they have heard or seen on the news about the event. Just be sure to couch your response in age-appropriate terms. At the same time, don’t force children to talk about the event if they are not ready to speak about it. Some children need to process things internally before they speak about it. Everyone is different and we all work through tragedy in our own way. Our children are no different.
- Understand that children may ask the same questions repeatedly. Be patient, because part of children’s learning process is the repetition of information. Again, we should not inundate them with too much information and detail, but we need to understand that ultimately, our kids are looking for reassurance that they are going to be safe and that what happened was an isolated incident.
- Know that you aren’t going to have all the answers. I know we all wish we had the words to describe what we are all going through. Some may be angry. Some may be sad. Many will be scared. We can try to turn our families attention to how we can help those in need. I know specifically, the authorities in Las Vegas are asking for people who are able to contribute blood to do so. They have also set up a GoFundMe account to help the victims and their families. Talk to your children about how we can help those in need and let them decide what we can do to help, even if it is saying a prayer or writing a letter to thank the law enforcement who protected the people of Las Vegas.
- Most importantly, be vigilant for signs of ongoing problems, and reach out to a mental health professional if you believe your child would benefit from speaking to a professional.
We are all struggling for answers to the senseless nature of the actions of what happened in Las Vegas, as well as many other tragedies that have recently struck our nation and our world.
It is easy to lose hope and to fall into despair about the state of our country and our world. In times of despair, and in times of tragedy, we must come together and support each other.
Gandhi said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
There is a common saying that it is always darkest before the dawn. Life seems very dark, currently, but at one time, as poet Mary Oliver wrote, “there was a time before maps when pilgrims traveled by the stars.”
In the dim light that we have in this darkness, we must continue to walk through and towards the dawn. We must be extraordinary and help those who need help.
We must start by showing love at home and hugging our children tight when they come home from school today.
And then we must be strong and show the bastards that they cannot bring us down because we will band together and we will rise and help our fellow man, always.
Our thoughts are with you, Las Vegas, as you heal from this senseless act. You are never alone.