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Talking About Scary Things

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.

2 comments on “Talking About Scary Things

  1. Good question Sheri. My sensei, Mr. Dan, has told me that he believes if a child asks a question they deserve an answer. If the question can be formed then the answer should be also. One issue about racism, sexism, and all discrimination is that without explicit conversations of the realities and perspectives of people oppressed, the privileged can proceed in the dark for a long time. And, it’s true that if these realities aren’t dinner table conversations its probably because they don’t have to be for the family to feel safe and secure.
    I think alot about the moral lesson of ‘we are all the same’ and ‘treat everyone equal’ that is so intuitive to teach small children and transforms into the colorblind argument about race as we develop. All of these break down quickly when you trying to explore with children the Black Lives Matter movement, or gay rights. Maybe we should start a listening circle for the juniors and up. If we can listen to each others’ experiences and struggles we’re on the way.

    • Thanks so much for your response, Jill! I totally agree Mr Dan about answering all questions that are asked. And also about teaching about injustice and privilege overtly. I’d love to hear more thoughts from everyone about how we best do this! I know the diversity task force is planning to create a resource list of some sort and maybe that will be a place to start for many parents.

      I find I’m much better at talking about the more abstract injustices. I’m wondering about questions that are NOT asked and specific tragic events. Should I sit a kid who hasn’t asked down and say, “a black man who worked at a Montessori school was unjustly shot by police last night in Minnesota”? What issues and incidences require pre-emptive parental response? And at what ages? As you can see, I have lots of questions and few answers. And everyone would approach topics from their own perspective. It helps me so much to hear parents I admire discuss what they do and say in situations like this.

      Thanks so much for your insight.