Saturday, December 15, 2012

Talking to your kids about tragedy

A senseless act of violence occurred yesterday. In Newtown,Connecticut a 20 year old man gunned down 20 elementary school kids and killed 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary school. First and foremost, let me say that my heart and prayers go out to the friends and families of the deceased. I can't imagine the pain and suffering the people in that community are feeling right now. To outlive your child is something that no parent should have to bear. I have cried half a dozen times today just thinking about those little kids. I don't know what could possess a man to shoot and kill children let alone take another person's life, including his mother, another relative, and his own.

Many of my friends with kids have been posting on Facebook all day about today's events and they are right, tonight you need to hold your kids a little tighter and a little longer than you normally would. You may have to let the silliness go a little longer than usual, let their raucous voices ring out, or give them that extra cookie they are begging you for the last ten minutes. I have hugged and kissed my kids more today than I usually do. Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy like this to remind us to hold the people we love a little closer to our hearts. We can lose sight of just how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken from us.

In only my third year of teaching in 2001, I was walking in between bells to the classroom that I taught homeroom. This was the classroom where all the important messages that the school passed on through me to the students. It was my job to connect with these kids and support them. On the way there, a student in the hall said "Mr. B, I just heard that a plane flew into the World Trade Tower" I thought, that can't be right but witnessed the horror of 9/11 along with 27 other impressionable teenagers. What was I going to say to them to make it all better?

Being a teacher, you are taught the procedures of lock down, the codes that would be read over a loudspeaker, and the steps you would take to protect your students. Every fire drill I have been a part of, I have taken accounting for every student seriously even if they didn't. The reality as we see, can be much worse. It happened in the blink of an eye. I applaud the teachers who protected their students, who did what they could in the face of a heavily armed killer. There is no justice, only aftermath. It makes becoming a teacher that much more important knowing that you are responsible for their safety. I support the teachers who gave their lives today to keep others safe.

During and after 9/11 it was hard to go back to teaching. How could I go on with my lesson with this going on? I couldn't ; all I kept thinking about were the people affected and if my friend had been anywhere near it when it happened. How are you supposed to go on with life when something like this happens? I spent days after that just talking with kids and having them write down their feelings. When I resigned from the school in 2008 I cleaned out my desk and found their journals. I still have them. Every emotion written in pages and pages of children's minds. I can tell you, that kids need to be reassured. Kids need to know that we want to keep them safe and that we are going to do everything we can to make sure that they are.

I have seen first hand as a teacher in school how quickly misinformation can affect a child. It doesn't matter how old they are, they still need to be reassured. I have already heard from my son the things that get passed down from the older kids. The fourth graders have a tendency to let things trickle down to the younger grades whether they want to hear it or not. I would rather my son hear it from me what happened.

I don't want to freak him out so he won't hear details but I still want him to know that he is safe. Kids are perceptive when it comes to how adults are reacting and talking to other adults about a situation and ignoring that it never happened is not healthy. We need to show our children that it is O.K. to be sad or angry about a bad situation. This way they learn that it is normal to have these feelings and they learn how to cope with adversity.

If you talked to your kids about Hurricane Sandy, the earthquake in Haiti, The Tsunami in Japan, 9/11, this should also be addressed. While we can't begin to explain why things like this happen to young children we can at least give them comfort in knowing that we are there for them. There are some awesome websites devoted to talking to your kids about tragedies. Fred Rogers has a helpful website that can help you talk with your kids about what they perceive and how to deal with it. Go to to learn more.

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