Helping Kids Make Sense of Senseless Tragedy
“Dad, why do people kill other people?”
So asked my eight-year-old son as we drove in the car Monday night.
“We had a moment of silence at school today,” he added.
The conversation was prompted by the recent shooting in Tucson, Arizona where six people were killed and thirteen injured. Elevating the profile of this senseless tragedy was the fact that the intended target was U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was meeting with the public at an open-air event. Among those killed were a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl who was there because she wanted to learn more about our democracy and meet her Representative.
There are moments that define you as a parent; bookmarks in the unfolding story of raising your children that you come back to time and time again wondering if you got it right. This was one of them.
Where do you begin?
We’ve never shied away from discussing tough subjects like this. Reading stories about Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy bring you face to face with some of the darkest sides of the human experience. But for some reason, this was the first time our son was brought to reaching out and asking for help.
Trying to answer this kind of question can be a springboard into so many other things: Greed, hate, selfishness; politics, religion, ideologies; war, gun control, non-violence. The list is (unfortunately) long.
Reflecting back on Monday’s conversation, there are some take-aways:
- Don’t shy away from things. Skirting my son’s question or sugar-coating my response would have been a disservice to him, his heart and his developing intellect. Not all parents will agree with me, but if we are to foster the next-generation of peacemakers and problem solvers, we need to engage our kids early and often in subjects that will ultimately make or break their success.
- Don’t dismiss the innate wisdom of our children. Even at eight years of age, our son displays an uncanny wisdom. So it goes for his six-year-old sister (we’ll have to wait for baby brother). In a culture where kids are plugged in to the point of intellectual atrophy, many have shut down our kids’ ability to grow and express this innate wisdom. We must continue to find opportunities to engage this beautiful side of them; draw it out of their innocent hearts; and in many cases use it to help us grow as parents ourselves.
- Balance truth with empathy and compassion. In my response to him and through the conversation that ensued, I spoke honestly but balanced it with avoiding gory details that a still-forming mind (and heart) did not need to hear. In the end, such details do not make or break the learning experience. He needed support and context to help him understand and process. Lead with the heart here.
So what did I tell him?
That some people resort to violence because they don’t know better; because some part of them has lost touch with that ability to love and understand and tolerate other people; to accept ideas and beliefs that might be different from their own.
Then we talked about the lessons to take away from it all: Treating others as we want to be treated; being kind and patient; listening and being respectful of the ideas and beliefs of others; avoiding judgement; helping instead of hurting — whether by words or actions.
It was a bonding moment for my son and I. Time will tell if the conversation and lessons of that moment bear fruit, but needless to say, I grew as a parent.
While I will not have the opportunity to come face-to-face with the families of those victimized by the weekend’s events, I want them to know that what happened did not go unnoticed by a family on the other side of the country. I want them to know that the lives of their loved ones — and the unfortunate tragedy that has enveloped them – are not passing by in vain. Through hearbreak and sadness, the Seed of Love and Life has been planted in untold numbers of others. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
If you found value in this post, I would be grateful if you could pass it on and share it. Thanks so much. While here, you might also like to read:
- The ABCs of Mindful Parenting
- 12 Favorite Books for Connecting Kids With Nature and Life
- Nature as Mentor: 6 Life Lessons That Gardens Can Teach Our Children
[image: Ben Heine]