How to Discuss Tragedy with ChildrenSuzanne Broadhurst
Much is afoot in the world. Much that we would rather not think about or discuss with other adults, even less with children. But children will hear of tragedy.
Children may not mention their knowledge to you – they might not want to upset you. And we don’t want to upset them. So we both live with the pain inside. Inside and alone. And that’s not a good place for tragedy to dwell. For an adult, or a child.
Is the answer to create unit studies about suicide vests and AK-47’s? That may be pouring out more information than young hearts can handle.
I suggest we ask the children a simple question.
Have You Heard?
“Have you heard about anything going on in the world lately?”
Before we grasp their fragile minds close to our chests with hugs and tears of sorrow over innocence lost, let’s ask them another question.
What Have You Heard?
“What have you heard is going on in the world?”
If their answer is “Joe is getting a new bike,” we may find ourselves breathing a sigh of relief. If their answer is, “People got bombed,” we will more likely inhale deeply and breathe a prayer for wisdom.
Let’s then ask – no matter their response – another leading question.
How Does That Make You Feel?
When you ask this question, use the phrasing they used: “How does that make you feel that [Joe is getting a new bike or people got bombed]?”
Create an Atmosphere of Safety
Why would we ask about trivial matters such as a friend getting a new bike? We are creating an atmosphere of safety.
As we develop relationships with our children, they feel safe in sharing their feelings. We’ll be glad they learned to share their hearts about bikes when life hands them heavier weights to carry.
“I’m happy for Joe, but I’m also mad. He broke my bike, but he’s getting a new one.”
Be Cautious About Judging Their Feelings
If they respond by sharing what seem to be inappropriate feelings, be sure to clarify their understanding of the situation.
We see through our children’s eyes when they share their thoughts with words or images.
A child may say, “I’m glad those people got bombed. They deserved it.”
What they might mean is: Bad people deserve bad things.
Or they might mean: They get to go live in another place that is safer now because their house got bombed.
Children may surprise you – I’m sure they already have! – with their interpretations of events.
Taming the Goat
When the planes hit the World Trade Center, my children were young. They processed their pain by playing with Lincoln Logs and toy airplanes. Bin Laden was a plastic goat – they had matching beards. The symbolism kept Bin Laden in a safe mental place by making him a goat.
When his photo was splashed all over newsstands for years to come, the children referred to him as The Goat.
They could handle a goat. A mass murderer, not so much.
I hate that the fallen world continues to present parents with tragedy to discuss.
It’s better to walk with our children where they are, than to pretend they do not see what they see. And hear. And feel.
How does that make you feel?