If you are like me, you are probably having a hard time explaining the explainable to your children. Yesterday morning, I wondered what my kids, aged 14, 9 and 6, knew about what happened in Las Vegas. Did they hear about it at school? Were they scared? Did they even understand what happened?
When I picked them up from school, I waited for them to ask me about it, before I said a word. The first thing I was asked was from my first grader, Cassie, " When the flag is only half-way up, does that mean somebody died?" I told her yes, that it is what we do when we are remembering or honoring someone who died. She told me she thought that might be it because they had just learned about 9/11. My son, Aiden, my 9 year old, chimed in next, "Is that because of the man that shot people in Las Vegas? Two kids at my table were talking about that." --ugh-- I responded with "Yes. It's because people in Las Vegas died. We are honoring them today with the flags being lowered." I left it at that because they didn't ask anything else, and I was thankful. I was a little nervous my shaky voice would give way to more questions, since it was such an emotional day.
Of course, Juleen, 14, was a different conversation. She had people coming up to her to give her hugs thinking she was in Vegas over the weekend. She explained to friends it was the weekend prior we were at that SAME venue and I think that's when it hit her a little harder. She also knew we had friends at the concert Sunday, so we talked about how they were doing.
I wasn't sure if I handled their questions correctly, but according to the family therapist in Us Weekly, keeping it simple and not giving too many details was the right thing to do with my little ones.Susan Stiffelman, a family therapist and best-selling author who writes regularly about parenting, opened up to Us Weekly about her top six tips for discussing national tragedies with your children. Here they are:
- Turn Off the News. "After a tragedy, many people keep the television on to feel connected with others who are also struggling to cope,” Stiffelman says. "Children are easily overwhelmed by somber newscasters repeatedly sharing frightening images and worrisome updates.”
- Answer Only the Questions That You Are Asked. “If your child says, ‘What happened?' first ask him what he has heard,” says Stiffelman. “Tailor your response to his specific question to avoid flooding him with information.”
- Steer Clear of Abstract Concepts. If you are presented with the question “Why did that man shoot people?” Stiffelman advises that you avoid complex explanations around radical religious beliefs. Instead, she recommends responding with, “No one really knows why this person did such a terrible thing. But we do know that he was very confused in his mind."
- Make It Safe to Come to You for Help With Big Feelings. “Simply saying, ‘Don’t worry!’ teaches children to repress their worries, which can fuel chronic anxiety,” Stiffelman says. "If your child expresses fear, tell her you’re glad she came to you for help.
- Offer Practical Reassurance. According to Stiffelman, children are egocentric and often wonder whether they could be subject to similar acts of violence. “Remind your child of the millions of gatherings that happen safely each day and the thousands of people who are hard at work to keep us safe,” says the Parenting With Presence author.
- Teach Tolerance. “While many of us feel powerless in the aftermath of tragedy, there is something we can do,” Stiffelman explains. “We can conduct ourselves in a way that makes it clear to our children that all people are worthy of respect. Model for your children the fact that every human life is precious and you will be helping stem the tide of hate-fueled violence."