Last Friday’s movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado was a tragic reminder for parents that no matter how hard we try to protect our children, it is virtually impossible to shield them from all danger. We live in an uncertain world where the behavior of others is often unpredictable. The only thing we truly have control over is our own actions and reactions.
So how do those of us who are watching the television and reading the media headlines respond when our children catch us emotionally enraptured by the latest story developments? How should we explain what happened? What is appropriate for our children’s ears? What is better left unsaid? And, what can they learn for the future?
However we decide to explain the tragedy to our children, one thing must remain clear and that is that we deliver our message in a responsible manner with the utmost sensitivity and respect for the families who are experiencing the loss firsthand.
Ø Let your tone convey the gravity of the situation. Children know very well by their parent’s tone of voice whether a particular subject is to be taken seriously. When tragedy strikes, parents should be calm and reassuring while they explain the situation in practical terms with only pertinent facts included.
Ø Keep it age appropriate and in perspective. Youngest children should receive this information on a need-to-know basis only and using very simple words. Older children may be privy to more detail, but with limitations, as we still don’t want to scare them unnecessarily. Be mindful of the media and make sure children do not have unlimited access.
Ø Teach your children to empathize. A tragedy of this magnitude offers our children the ability to learn how to sympathize with another person’s situation, and to offer understanding and compassion. Children need to exercise their empathy muscle so that when a situation arises they will know how to genuinely show their support.
Ø Use the tragedy to strengthen survival skills. There is always a lesson to be learned from tragedy, and as painful as it is to discuss, children must gain wisdom from the experience. In this particular situation, it is a lesson to teach our children to always be conscious of their surroundings, to heighten their awareness of others, and to notice and identify suspicious behavior. These skills may just wind up saving their lives someday.
If you happened to miss the live courtroom newsfeed this morning as the 24 year old defendant, James Holmes, received his first words from the judge, here is the clip http://tinyurl.com/d97438l. It is strikingly evident from this footage that the young man is deeply troubled.