Not How, But Why to Talk to Your Kids about Newtown
We told our 6-year-old son about the shooting at Sandy Hook the Monday morning after it happened. In a conversation that had me reapplying my mascara, my husband gave him the bare facts: A guy went into an elementary school in Connecticut—far from here—and hurt a lot of kids and some teachers. It's a very sad, sad thing. But you are safe at your school.
"What happened to the guy who did it?" our son asked quietly.
"How did he die? I mean, how do you know he's dead?" He looked hard at my husband, daring him to fib.
And so in a twist I didn't anticipate, my son heard about suicide for the first time. Still, after a moment, he hugged us both tightly, then ran off to talk to his brothers about the Polar Express party they were having at school.
It was a short, straightforward, and impossibly hard conversation to have with a 6-year-old. It didn't help that as I watched him react, I knew the parts we didn't share: Those children were the exact same age as him, and they did not survive.
All around the country, parents are having similar conversations. Within hours of the shooting spree, articles began popping up with suggestions and tips for how to discuss the tragedy with children. But for many people I talked to, the question wasn't so much "how" to share, but "why." Why should we expose our children to this evil?
There are no hard and fast rules for this sort of conversation, of course. Each child and each family is different, and parents much discern how best to approach any news topic with young ones. But for Christians, the "why" should be easy: It's only when we begin to understand the full brokenness of this world, and ourselves, that we can truly understand the fullness of the saving grace of Christ.
I know a lot of parents who avoided the conversation because of their own fears or inability to process it. Yet, parents have to be the ones to introduce children to the reality of evil. If we wait until they learn about it in school, we've already lost the information war and, perhaps, our children's trust. If Mom and Dad only assure their children that everything is okay and always will be, but then the children see and hear the opposite at school, it isn't long before Mom and Dad are too out of touch to help them face real life as it happens.
Do I think we should plop our little ones down for a Friday night viewing of Schindler's List? Of course not. I haven't seen that movie, or read A Thousand Splendid Suns for that matter, but I still know about the Holocaust and the plight of women in Afghanistan. Similarly, we didn't expose our son to any news coverage of Sandy Hook—not even NPR, the standard station in our van. It's possible to give our kids information without inundating them with images or stories that are too graphic for them to process.