What to Tell the Children

My heart goes out to everyone affected in the horror that happened yesterday in Connecticut. Like others I feel a profound sadness, a sickness of the spirit.

Seeing discussion about what and how and if this should be discussed with children elsewhere I wanted to provide my perspective for I’ve had a couple of firsthand experiences helping my 4th grade students through something unfathomably horrible. The first was 9/11 and the second was when a high school student jumped out of a 12th floor window of the school directly into the street where we were having recess.  That he did not land on any child was a miracle, but some were very close by (as was I), so close one was covered in blood. The sound of the impact was so loud those children who didn’t actually see it thought it was a gun shot, made scarier when we told them to run to the nearest cross street, wanting to get them away from the body as soon as possible. It was only when we were around the corner that I was able to reassure them that it wasn’t a shooting. Not knowing for sure what happened I told them there had been an accident. In fact, my mind wasn’t able to process for some time what I’d seen. I’m not sure I still am able to completely.

In both cases we were careful and cautious. While some children needed to know more others wanted nothing to do with discussion.  In the case of 9/11 I found that Charlotte’s Web and a focus on heroes was the best way to go along with an effort to provide a comfortable return to normalcy as much as possible in that scary time. With the more recent suicide we looked at our curriculum and made adjustments, were in close communication with parents, and were helped by caring professionals.  Since they told us there were similarities to having to deal with a school shooting I’m guessing they will be considering how to help us best address this new horror, especially for those in our community for whom this triggers memories of what happened to us a few years ago.

Because of these experiences as well as others less horrific, but sad as well (a sudden unexpected death of a classmate or a teacher), I have learned that what is important is to proceed with great care, keeping in mind that each child is going to process this differently. One child might be curious and barrage adults with questions about every aspect of what happened while another might be overwhelmed and terrified by any sort of questions and those answers. I have to say I can’t remember the specific conversations we had after those other tragedies as much as I remember being so cautious and careful.  Anything we said and did needed to provide comfort not elevate anxiety.

And so I can’t say what to tell your children since you know them and I don’t.  To me that is key — do what you know works for your children.  The best you can.  That is what I will be doing on Monday.

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7 responses to “What to Tell the Children

  1. This is such good advice….my God, the horror of it. And the horror of what you and your kids experienced, too….so much.

  2. Thank you for your wisdom.

  3. i’m sorry you witnessed that suicide, monica. awful.

    my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher also made the point that even if our kids are shielded from tv and the internet this weekend, other kids will talk when they’re back at school. hoping that they’ll know nothing is sadly not so productive. better we should convey the messages we want to as parents than cling to our own wishful thinking that they’ll remain in the dark about what happened.

    • Yes indeed. Kids are going to talk to each other so any attempt to try to keep it from them completely is bound to fail. I assume my students will have already been informed by their parents. As you note, you are the ones who know your children more than anyone else so the best to convey this dreadful event to them.

  4. Appalling. I wrote on this topic as well, though from a slightly different perspective (a perspective formed largely through my work on Mister Rogers) http://themovingcastle.blogspot.com/2012/12/tragedy-children.html. I was very troubled by an article from a dad who encouraged everyone not to tell the kids anything, but who rushed to his child’s school to tell her teacher to not say anything to the kids. As you say, kids talk and listen, so efforts to conceal entirely any event is not going to work. The anecdotes you relate from your own experience are horrifying, though I cannot think of a better teacher for a child to have than you. I do think that if child_lit, and blogs like your own, have taught me anything about dealing with actual children, it is that each child is different, and knowing your child, being attentive to those differences, is essential.

  5. Thank you for what you do every day. All weekend I’ve been feeling a strong urge to give every teacher I know a big, big hug.

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