Your child may ask you about violence on school campuses. Or the Colorado theatre shootings. Or the Connecticut school tragedy. Or the Boston marathon explosions. Or attacks in Charleston and San Bernardino. As dads, we’re supposed to have some answers, to see the reason in unreasonableness, to try and understand the unfathomable, to provide a sense of safety for our family. But sometimes, we’re just perplexed.
Understanding the Unfathomable
We have all been taken aback by the tragic events of violence in our country recently. We can’t help but wonder why bad things happen to innocent people and what to do about it? What do you tell your children? How do you explain the unexplainable and how do you keep them safe?
When we are reeling from news of our country’s students and innocent bystanders being subjected to harm, it may be quite difficult for us to understand why these events happen, let alone explain them to our children. But as dads, we are called upon to make sense of the senseless. And so we must try.
Comforting our children
There are some actions you can take to help your children deal with tragedy.
• Try to be calm and factual. You need to be an example of steadiness.
• Minimize exposure to the news. Tragedy breeds coverage that seems never-ending. A constant focus on the event makes it ever-present in children’s minds and seem more common than tragic events really are.
• Answer your child’s questions in a truthful manner that is appropriate to his or her age.
• Give your child a chance to talk about the event. Raise the issue but don’t dwell on it. Children recover fairly quickly from tragic news. But they will want to talk about it at some point. Be available and watch for the opportunity.
• Check on your child. Watch for signs of stress, unusual actions, unusual mood swings or anxiety, interrupted sleep or eating patterns, an intense focus on something. Make sure your child is doing ok. Provide other opportunities for discussion or just togetherness.
• Acknowledge and respect your child’s feelings.
• Reassure your child about his or her personal safety.
• Talk about ways you can get involved in work to prevent violence in our society.
Starting the Conversation
It is important to talk about events that make a difference in our lives. Tragic episodes are no different. Pick a time when your child can listen. Be calm, steady & truthful. Don’t speculate. Provide an opportunity for your child to ask questions. Correct any misperceptions that may have been picked up. And reassure your child of his or her personal safety through words and a hug. You won’t be able to answer all the questions, but you’ll begin to start a dialogue.
A helpful resource is the Mayo Clinic’s suggestions for helping children cope with tragic events