President ObamaThankfully, I was not directly impacted by today’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut.  As a parent, my deepest sympathies go out to those who have lost family members.

Yesterday morning, I dropped our 7-year old Alexandrine off at school.  We have a small ritual when it comes to her getting out of the car – she gives me a small hug from her vantage point in the back seat, then she flails both sides of both of her hands in front of my face as I kiss them.  She learned about “kissing hands” a long time ago, and what started as a single kiss to the palm of her hand in Kindergarten has taken 2 years to evolve into 4 kisses on each hand.  She then tells me she loves me, and tries to jump out of the car.  Invariably, she finds that her backpack has gotten wedged into her foot well, then tugs on it, shoves the car door open and disappears into the crowd at the front of her elementary school.  I wait until she emerge from the back of the crowd to make her way around the corner of the building.  Once I know that she is safely on her way, I drive away. 

As she did this yesterday, I briefly reflected on my appreciation that schools remain sacred when it comes to children’s security.  There are very few public places where I have the peace of mind to drop my daughter off into a crowd of strangers.  In this environment, my daughter was totally safe and secure.  It was a good feeling.  It also struck me how things have changed over the past 30 years.  As a child, I used to be able to play outdoors without constant adult supervision.  It is unfortunate that our youth require constant supervision, but nice that schools remain a refuge where parents and teachers continue to work at keeping this bubble of safety. This is a place where the evils of the outside world are kept at bay, and where anti-bullying campaigns are promoted.

As I write this, the world is grieving for the loss of 20 young students together with 7 of their teachers in a senseless act of violence in Newtown, Connecticut.  The details are sketchy, and in some ways, irrelevant.  The events of the day will never be fully comprehended, but for some, the effects of the tragedy will last a lifetime.  A part of our collective innocence has been lost.  Any time a child predeceases their parents, a crime against nature has occurred.  Since hearing the news earlier today, my initial reaction was disbelief.  This gave way to a mixed sense of nauseousness combined with a feeling of sadness mixed with disgust.  As I write this, my sentiment has turned to compassion for those who need to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move forward.  It is my hope that some good can come from this, but now is not the time for debating heavy issues.  As President Obama said, now is a time to “hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another”.  Now is the time to grieve our loss of innocence.  Tomorrow we can push for tighter gun control.

Talking to Kids about Tragedy

Of our 3 daughters, Alexandrine is the one closest in age to the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  She is somewhat immune from the news of the day on account of the fact that her favorite show “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” doesn't run on CNN.  As well, Alexandrine is a bit if a worrier – our home was broken into over 2 years ago and she is still scared to be alone in any room in the house.  In order to keep her vivid imagination from spinning out of control, we are not bringing the matter to her attention.  If it comes up, we will deal with it.  But for now, radio silence is the plan.  

As for our 12 and 14 year old girls, we had a brief conversation and they expressed sympathy for the victims, but the likelihood of something similar happening in their school never crossed their minds.  We talked about the fact that sometimes tragedy strikes, and that we need to be grateful for the moments that we have together. 

What the Experts Recommend

I tend to not rely too much on parenting advice from the internet, but pass along the following tips for people looking for some direction: 

  • Turn Off the News - the 24 hour media coverage is sensationalist and, depending on the age, can scare a child.  It is important that you, as a parent, have the facts in order to answer their questions, but you don't need to follow every twist and turn in the story.
  • Provide Reassurance - children naturally look to their parents for reassurance during times of uncertainty.  Let them know that this was a very unfortunate and very rare occurence. 
  • If they are old enough, have an age-appropriate discussion - teenagers will have questions - hear them out and answer as best you can.  Allowing your children to verbalize their concerns and opinions (without being overly alarmist) is healthy.

I would really like to hear from the other parents of school children out there.  Please use the comments box below to tell me your approach to discussing these types of events with your children.