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Explaining the Inexplicable to Children


I have no explanation for the horror of last week.

Personally, I am hoping to not share what happened in Newtown with my very young children, ages 6, 4, and 1.5. I know that others disagree but, given my children’s reactions to other recent events in our own lives and community, I feel this is what is best for my family. Honesty is not the same as full disclosure.

If you are making this same decision, I would like to offer you Jessica Gottlieb‘s words:

During all of this tumult people will get on TV and tell you how to talk to your four year old about death. They’ll have advice on how your eight year old deals with tragedy and your teens too.

Your four year old never needs to know about this. If your eight year old is your eldest child there’s no reason to talk to them either. I’ve got a really easy solution for you and it began for me on September 11, 2001.

When America was invaded by terrorists I had a newborn child and a toddler. Every image on the television was of the towers crumbling to dust. I did not want my daughter to have that image seared into her brain so I turned the TV off and lived without cable TV news.

If you do decide to tell your children, or if someone else does and you now have to respond, I would like to share these resources:

If my children do hear and do ask questions, I plan to say, “A man who was very sick in his mind killed young children in Connecticut. I feel really sad about that. There are people there who helped and we should recognize and celebrate the good things they did. Your family and your teachers will always do all we can to protect you. You are safe and loved.”

There are debates firing up everywhere I look–about gun control, about mental illness, about school security. I understand the very human need to find a way to make sure this will never happen again…that it will never happen to us. I also understand the desire to seize the moment, when our nation is focused, to talk about these issues. I just can’t.

What I did find comforting were the words Amy Lupold Bair (Resourceful Mommy) posted on Facebook:

As we watch these stories of heroism on the part of the teachers, please know that your children’s teachers would have done the same, your kids are just as cared for and protected. I can say from experience that in a time of crisis or fear, your first thought is protecting the kids in your classroom. If you’re feeling helpless right now and want to do something, consider thanking your child’s teacher for the job they do each day. A short note of thanks means the world to a teacher.

Write a letter, light a candle, say a prayer, send your love to the people of Newtown.

And I want to leave you with just a few more wise words from Amy:

Moms, at some point this weekend your kids are going to do something ridiculous and you will yell. At some point in the next few days they will ask to do or have something totally off limits and you will say no. And then you will think of Newtown and feel guilt. Give yourselves grace. Love your children hard, but don’t forget to love yourself.

Photo Credit: Brenda Clarke

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Candace Lindemann, Yale, BA, Harvard Graduate School of Education, EdM, is an educational consultant and published writer. She enjoys new learning experiences with her children, ages 6 and 4 and 1.5.

Filed under: Crises

One Response to "Explaining the Inexplicable to Children"

  1. [...] their children: Strategies for handling sad, tragic news – as a family from Teach Mama and Explaining the Inexplicable to Children from Naturally [...]

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