In the wake of the recent tragedy in our community, I have considered my responsibility as a mother and as a therapist. As a mother, I am horrified and frightened for my children and of the world they are living in, and as a therapist, I am horrified and frightened for the community at large and feel compelled to offer support. Before I address communicating with your children about recent events, please let me remind you of the covenant of motherhood that I believe that we are inherently bound to uphold: Love your babies. Teach them that all people are deserving of love and respect. Do not tolerate hate at any age. Today and everyday, be kind and stand up for our collective communities.
Many mothers struggle inherently with the “right” way to address sensitive topics with children. My hope is to provide you with an applicable framework that may be useful to you. It is important, in a general sense, to remember that children are remarkably intuitive with regards to what information they are developmentally able to integrate and manage. My rule of thumb, at home and at work, is to answer difficult questions simply and in age appropriate terms. More importantly, I try to only answer the question being asked, honestly and without explanation. Children will, surprisingly, in some cases, be satisfied with our most simple and true responses. While our own anxiety will provoke over talking and over explanation, being simple and direct is a more appropriate goal. In the event that they require more clarity, let them guide you with their follow up questions.
Many of you will feel compelled to talk with your children about Wednesday night’s shooting. Some will be prompted by your children’s awareness of recent media coverage or discussion and some will feel compelled to initiate discussion. In fact, silence about the issue may convey that it is too threatening or scary to discuss. I urge you to consider the following as you engage your children, regardless of age, knowledge or experience.
- Remember who your child is. Consider their personality and temperament. Are they sensitive or concrete? Young children will not be aware of the events, however, they may mirror or adopt emotional responses of their parents. School aged children may react with fear and uncertainty. Adolescents may appear unaffected or respond with silence. Most children with knowledge of the traumatic event will want to talk about it.
- Start the conversation in an age appropriate manner: Something very sad happened yesterday. A man with a gun hurt people. Police have the man, and we are safe now. People are very sad, but they are getting a lot of help and support.
- Find out what they know. Using open-ended questions, determine their knowledge of the events. For example, what have you heard about the event? Now listen. Correct any inaccurate information, in simple non-detailed terms. Ask them how they feel, and make sure to validate their feelings.
- Allow them to ask questions that guide your discussion. Always keep in mind, young children do not need details, they need simple honest answers. (Only answer the question they are asking). Remind them that they are safe.
- Help our children learn how to be socially conscious citizens of the world. You are their most influential role model for appropriate responses to tragedy. We as mothers have a responsibility to remind our children about the good that comes out of tragedy: helping others, supporting our neighbors. Promote their engagement in age appropriate activities like drawing pictures for victims, writing caring letters, planting a memorial flower bed in your backyard. These strategies not only begin to teach and emphasize appropriate empathy but community support.
If you are specifically impacted or feel overwhelmed by your child’s response, reach out for help! Mother’s grieve the loss of every child as well as fear for our own. Be strong and be brave, and remind yourself of the incredible job you are doing.
Special thanks to Lindsey Barr for sharing her professional opinion with us. Lindsey is a licensed professional counselor. She owns LCB Clinical Counseling, LLC in Mount Pleasant. To contact Lindsey, call (843) 452-5539.