What Do You Say To Your Kids When They Ask about World Tragedies?

parents talking to kids

Every so often I’m reminded that my sweet babies are growing up, and I have such a love/hate relationship with that. While I’m so looking forward to the day I never have to buy another diaper or wipe another snotty nose, I’m going to miss these days so much. Our oldest will be 8 next month, our middle daughter just turned 5 and our twins just turned 2. We have some babies, but we don’t have them much longer. Today my two oldest started cheer camp. Our oldest has gone for the past four years. Our youngest went for the first time today; a gross reminder she is growing up.

Our oldest asked me the other day about Instagram. She is always asking questions and making comments that remind us she’s not a baby anymore, and we really hate that. When the attacks on Paris happened last fall, my husband and I were in New York City for some events. When we returned, she hugged us so tight and said she was worried about us and had to make sure that Manhattan wasn’t close to Paris (and now she’s obsessed with geography). When people commemorate 9/11, she asks about it. Why? How? When? What does it mean?

We’ve always been able to limit her exposure to the media, but she’s growing up. She’s in school where she’s hearing about things from other kids. She’s listening to us when we speak. She might not seem to hear us when we tell her to clean her room or ask her to use her indoor voice, but she sure does hear everything we say. She’s observant, and she’s very smart.

So when the massacre in Orlando, only an hour from our home and somewhere we visit regularly as we have annual passes to Disney World and the other Disney Parks, we wondered how to broach the subject with our oldest. Our five-year-old is still in that sort of blissfully ignorant stage in which the only thing in the world that matters to her is her – sometimes us and the twins, and all the time her tablet battery life.

We thought we should mention it, but how? How do you tell a little girl of almost 8 what happened when you cannot even wrap your own head around it? We didn’t know what to say, so we thought we’d wait for her to ask. Then we thought that it seems a bit like we’re not being truthful if we don’t mention it. She solved that problem for us by waking up and coming into the living room at that moment. She saw the news on television and asked what all the police cars were doing.

We knew in that moment we had to tell our little girl who feels so safe in the world that the world is not a good place. She’s not stupid, so she already knows this; but how do you tell a little girl just how bad it can be? You just have to be honest. We know our daughter and what she can handle, and we know that every child is different. We know that some people won’t talk to their kids about this. We know some parents will be far more honest than we will. We know that some parents will gloss over things to keep their children save.

I’m not judging you.

You know your child; I don’t. You know what your child can handle, and you know what you have to say to feel comfortable having a discussion of this nature. I’m merely sharing with you how we explained the situation to our daughter so that perhaps it might help someone who feels similarly to us; someone who might have a child similar to ours.

We were honest. The conversation went a little bit like this.

“A very bad man went into a building Orlando with his gun and he hurt a lot of people for no reason,” we said. She asked, “Why did he do that? Did they die?” “Well, a lot of people did die, and a lot of people are in the hospital right now. We don’t know why he did it, to be honest.”

She nodded, and was quiet for a few moments. That’s when she quietly said, “He must not have known that God loves him and that’s why he made bad choices. If he knew that God loved him, he would have made good choices.” She later prayed about it when we put her to bed.

Our hearts felt so much better after that. Our daughter knows what happened, she knows that this person is awful, and she came to her own conclusions in the matter without us having to detail anything to her. We turned off the television and took everyone out to breakfast after that, and we had a nice family morning. Our kids feel safe with us, and we know that a lot of that has to do with the fact that we don’t keep secrets from them about things. We don’t brush them off and make them feel worried or wonder. We let them ask questions and we answer them honestly, albeit as vaguely as possible. That’s when we reassure our kids that we love them, will do anything to protect them and that we do everything in our power every single day to keep her safe.

We certainly are not perfect. We certainly don’t have all the answers. We make mistakes every single day; but our kids are smart, they’re inquisitive and they are secure in our love for them. As long as we can keep them feeling that way, we will.

Photo by Getty Images  

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