When we, as adults, cannot make sense of people being murdered in a movie theater, how are we to speak of it to children? If we feel fear and helplessness as the news reports bombard us, how can our children not feel overwhelmed?
Unfortunately it will likely happen again in some form. So rather than be caught unprepared, there are some things to keep in mind about talking to children when violence happens.
While these conversations may be difficult, they are extremely important, and the way we help is by listening and responding in an honest, consistent and supportive manner.
What we say to our children depends on their age and the questions they ask. It is important to tell the truth because children benefit from knowing they can rely on their parents to be honest; so keep it honest but limit details. Try to address just what the child is asking.
Let them know you understand what is happening is confusing and complicated and you're glad to be talking with them about it.
Feel free to answer “I don't know” to tough questions. If they wonder how God could allow this to happen, you may have to say, “I don't have an answer to that,” or “What do you think?”
Ask them if they are worried and/or frightened. Even if they say no, you are giving them permission to have those feelings and to discuss them if they choose.
Reassure children you will keep them safe. When possible, introduce them to policemen who provide safety and security in their community. While we acknowledge there are people who do bad things, remind them of all the people they know who are kind and trustworthy.
Reinforce the importance of using words to resolve conflicts. However you feel about ownership of guns, help children understand violence is seldom a constructive option.
Whatever the specific questions children may ask, you are always wise to assume there are at least two unspoken questions: Am I going to be OK? Are you going to be here to take care of me? You are never wrong in repeating these assurances.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.