My 4 ½ year old came home from school the other day, having heard about the alligator and the poor 2 year old at Disneyworld. She told me about it with excitement, “guess what happened!?” and not fear or sadness. I’m sure it didn’t seem real to her, as tragedy often does not for small children.
Until now, when something tragic happens (Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minnesota, Orlando, Ferguson, Sandy Hook, or even shootings in our own city), my kids have remained unaware. Many of my friends have taken the approach that, “we better tell her about it, because she’s going to learn about it at school” and they sit their kid(s) down for a hard talk. That is certainly reasonable, but (until maybe now) it has not been true for my kids that they will always learn about it at school. My oldest is on the aloof side, to be sure, but she never heard a thing about Sandy Hook from her classmates. Not a peep. And I ended up being really glad that I had not broken that news to her 1st grade self, after all. I know that schools do lockdown drills and other emergency preparation, but my kids still don’t seem to have any inkling that school could ever be any more than a safe and nurturing place.
We don’t often have TV news on at home, and have just opted to not talk about tragic things with the kids or around them. I realize that this is pretty inconsistent, as we do talk openly about matters of politics and social justice—they understand on their age-appropriate level about immigration or racism or gay rights. But when it comes to mass shootings and other violence or tragedy, I guess we have just really sheltered them. And thus, we have allowed this particular privilege they have to remain unchallenged.
I think our window for dealing with tragedy in this way is closing, though. Our oldest is 10 now, and surely at some point will begin to pay more attention when other kids are talking about newsworthy tragedies. And our 4 year old has already proven to be more perceptive at a younger age than her older sibling. I’m kind of at a loss now as to how to proceed. Do we start breaking the news of tragedy pre-emptively, or do we wait until they come to us with questions or fears? I would love to hear opinions and experiences from other co-op parents and teachers about how to manage sensitive topics. How do you talk with your kids about scary things going on in our country right now?
Sheri is the mom of Clara (age 4) in Miss Nicole’s room and also 10 year old Lucy, who attends public school.