Source Newsroom: Saint Louis University Medical Center
Today's the first day of school after the terrible tragedy hit a school in Connecticut. As kids get together with their classmates, there will be some buzzing about the horrific incident. Kids will come home with some innocent, but curious questions for their parents, who are struggling to cope up with the fear created by the event themselves. Saint Louis University Associate Professor of Pediatrics Ken Haller, M.D., has some excellent advice for parents on how to talk to their kids about this terrifying event.
From Dr. Haller:
So what do you say to a kid at a time like this? It depends on the kid, of course, how old they are, how much they’ve seen about this on TV. So let’s start with that. There is going to be saturation coverage of this for the next few hours, at least. This may be the time to get out “The Little Mermaid” or “The Lion King” and let your kids watch it for the gazillionth time. Being a parent means protecting your kid as much as you can and that includes protecting them from psychological violence. Seeing video of screaming kids running from a school over and over is not appropriate for kids. So switch to Nickelodeon or Disney or PBS Kids – or better yet, play a board game, trim the tree, bake cookies – but stay away from CNN while the younger kids are in the room.
But of course, at some point they are going to hear about it. Because that is how things are. What do you say when your kids come to you and ask, “Is someone going to shoot everyone at my school?” Your answer is, “No.” But it could happen, you say. Yes, and you could win the $500,000,000 Powerball also, but deep in your heart, even as you’re buying the ticket, you know it’s not going to happen. These sorts of horrific events occur about 20 times a year, about as often as a Powerball drawing. How many schools, shopping malls, movie theatres are there in the United States? Thousands. Tens of thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands. The chance that your kid is going to be in a place where that is going to happen is so vanishingly small that you can be 99.9999% accurate when you answer their fearful question with a “No.” And how often in life do we ever get that kind of assurance? So in this case, do as Nancy Reagan says, and Just Say No.
Yeah, you say, but my kid is ten. He’s gonna say, “But it did happen to these kids! How can you say it’s not gonna happen at my school.” Well, you could go into statistics about chance as well as the human tendency toward magical thinking and the need for control – why else do people not fly because they’re afraid of a plane crash yet have no qualms about driving everywhere when their chances of dying in a car accident are hugely greater – and of course, the media’s attention to spectacular events as opposed to everyday hazards – the other reason for driving rather than flying. But I agree, that probably won’t work. So here you say, “You know, you’re right. When I see something so horrible as this, it really really scares me. It scares me that some crazy person could do something like that, and I would never ever see you again. Now you tell me what you’re scared of.” This is when your kid will tell you whatever they need to tell you. Take it in. Reflect it back. Recognize that your child is growing up and starting to see that the world is not always safe. This is the beginning of wisdom.
And here you say, “I wish I could tell you that everything will always be safe. Most likely it will. But the important thing for you to know is that, no matter what happens, I love you, I’ll be there for you, and I am going to do everything in my power to protect you. Always.” Then hug it out.
The greatest fear that kids – and indeed all humans – have is that they will be left alone, abandoned to an insane, inhuman world. In fact as we learn more about the histories of those who commit such horrific crimes, this is a horrifyingly consistent trait. As children grow and mature, they will realize over time that not everything is perfect. Less is every day. But if they can be assured that there are people in their lives who are there lovingly with them on their journey, they will not live their lives in timid fear but in joyful curiosity and wonder.