The Hardest Conversation

Did you tell your children about the tragedy in Connecticut?


The first thing I did when I read about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was weep.

The second thing I did was tell myself that I would never let my children, ages 3 and 8, know that something so horrific had happened in the world that they live in.

It would be easy for me to shield them from it. We don't have cable and we never watch the news with them in the room. My 8-year-old is very sensitive and we shield him from the many horrors of the world, regardless. I didn't want something so terrifying to even enter his consciousness.

The fact the the tragedy happened on Friday gave me the weekend to ruminate on whether or not we should share the news with our sweet boy. It started to sink in that children at his school may know about the tragedy and tell him about it. Somehow, the news is always scarier, the details more graphic, when it comes from another child.

It suddenly felt like the great unknown. Would his teacher talk to the class about it? Would other kids spread the news on the playground? If he were to find out, I wanted him to hear it from us so that we could comfort him.

I began to research how to handle telling your children about a school shooting. Obviously, we would not tell our 3-year-old but most of what I read said that it would be appropriate to talk to a child over the age of 7.

With heavy hearts, my husband and I decided that we would talk to him about it Sunday afternoon. We knew better than to tell him too close to bedtime or before school on Monday morning.

I felt sick at the thought of even uttering the words to him.

When we chose to tell him, he was in the kitchen playing with his remote control monster truck. We kept it short and simple with very few details, specifically that a man with a mental illness went into a school with a gun and hurt some of the children We quickly talked about all the teachers who protected the children and told him about the kids who helped each other. 

We told him that scary times like these create heroes and that the bad guy had been stopped. We assured him that his teachers would do everything in their power to keep him safe. 

We also told him that not all parents of the kids in his class will have shared the news with them and that he should keep it to himself unless his teacher mentioned it. We explained that it was something that kids should hear from a grown up, which he agreed to do.

He was sad but didn't ask questions. He hasn't mentioned it again and my plan is to let it go unless he brings it up. My hope is that we told him in a way that was gentle enough to keep his small world feeling safe.

In the end, it seems that there was no mention of it at school on Monday, which was a relief.  If I could go back in time and erase the tragedy from his memory, I would. Yet, I'm glad that I could be the one to tell him and follow up the news with the tightest hug that I'll probably ever give him.

Did you tell your children about the shootings? If so, what did you tell them? Did the teachers discuss with them at their school? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Leigh Hewett December 19, 2012 at 03:13 PM
I agree. He can't even begin to understand the magnitude of what happened. Thank God! I wanted to give him just enough information to know that the shootings happened but not enough information to keep him up at night. It's a delicate balance.
Leigh Hewett December 19, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I think that you handled it perfectly for your little guy.
Leigh Hewett December 19, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Thanks Caroline. I agonized over it. In the end, I think that we did the right thing, I hope.
Gail Lane December 19, 2012 at 04:55 PM
My oldest was 2 when her dad committed suicide. I worked very hard that day to make sure that nothing was outstandingly sad, traumatic or remarkable; life was normal.She was safe. At around 5, she began asking questions and I would just comment that he had died. At 6, the questions became more frequent and needful of a more complete answer. We consulted a psychologist on the best way to handle things, and during the course of interviews it became evident that my daughter's view of her father's death had been skewed by her sensitivity and her imagination. If children are not given enough information to process, they will fill in the blanks on their own. Sometimes that's even scarier than the reality we try to shield them from. We found that when given a little of the truth at a time, she could process it - and come back with questions. We made sure her questions were answered truthfully, but age appropriately. Sort of "in small doses." Over the years, she came to know the full truth but there were some instances where we didn't give her the "complete" answer that made sense to her. We told her he was a sick man ... and when she got a cold, she naturally thought she was going to die. We told her it was drug related; she wouldn't take aspirin. We corrected her perception and moved on very matter of factly because it WAS part of our life. An age appropriate measure of truth is almost always better than no information at all. Teaching children to process it is paramount.
Crystal Huskey December 19, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Mine are too young, but my eight-year-old niece has been literally sick over it. She threw up a few times after she found out. I think it's really, really hard on some kids, but at the same time it's much better to hear what happened from your parents, in a safe environment, than at school.


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