Driving to work each morning this week I’ve had to switch the radio off. The discussions about the attacks in Paris, the bombings in Syria, refugees fleeing civil war, what is and isn’t considered religious freedom…it’s all too much. I like to be informed but there comes a certain point where there is no NEW information being shared; we’re just analyzing and re-analyzing. And this…this feeds right into my anxiety. My brain zeros in on what if, what happens when, why is this happening and ultimately gets stuck on the reality that I cannot control what is going on in Syria, or right here in our own little community. And that makes me feel unsafe. So I choose to switch off the radio, ride to the first school campus of the day in silence.
As adults, as educators we try to shield our students and even our own children from horrors like what happened in Paris over the last weekend. I can remember being in school during the 9/11 attacks in NYC and D.C and not being allowed to talk about what was happening and teachers going on about the day as if the world around us wasn’t in crisis. It’s an ancient, completely accepted aspect of our society….ignore it…it’s better that way. Except it’s not. Our kiddo’s have some of the same fears and worries and thoughts that we have about what’s happening around us. Not acknowledging this is incredibly invalidating and counterproductive in our pursuit in raising socially and emotionally healthy adults. So how do we do this? How do I do this as an adult with my own set of beliefs and worries about these incredibly major national events explain to the children I love what is going on, and how to manage their emotions, whatever they may be?
Limit their exposure. Ultimately, especially for younger children we want to limit their exposure to news reports, radio shows and graphic imagery when acts of terror occur. Also limit their exposure to adult conversations about the event. As parents and educators, we need to be mindful of comments we make and conversations with have with others while our kiddo’s are in ears shot.
Answer their questions honestly. Keep a confident, matter of act, tone of voice and be as honest as possible. The older your student is, the more they really understand what is going on around them, the more questions they will have. In regards to the attacks in Paris – yes, people were hurt, yes people died. Don’t be afraid to tell them you don’t know the answer; I don’t know why this happened.
Use an age appropriate explanation. It’s difficult to explain acts of terrorism to anyone, let alone our children. Keep in mind that the media tends to mix facts with leading statements. For kids, the simpler the explanation the better. You can explain that sometimes people make bad decisions, and hurting other people is a bad decision. That these people didn’t use their words to explain what they wanted, they weren’t willing to compromise and think about other people’s feelings and needs.
Urge them to focus on the helpers. Mr. Roger’s quote about searching for helpers during times of crisis has been close to my heart for a long time. People come together in times of crisis, there are always people willing to help others, comfort others, and provide shelter and safety. Acts of terror are awful and scary, refocusing their perspective on something positive can help calm their fears.
Engage their compassion. I try to refocus talks with my kiddos about acts of terror more on how we can both work on becoming better friends to others. How can we help all students in our community feel welcome and a part of our school family? How can we be work becoming better citizens? What can we do on our campus when problems come up, or we disagree with a friend?
Explaining an event that is so momentous, so scary, to kids can be incredibly difficult. We don’t want to frighten them even more, we don’t want to invalidate or ignore their worries or thoughts about what is going on. Meeting you kids on their level and engaging them in conversation about events like the terror attacks in Paris last week, can help to give children a sense of control over their lives. Refocusing their thoughts on how they can be compassionate and caring citizens.