How I Explain Tragedy to My Children
In a world where every few weeks it seems there is another massive loss of lives all over the news, and a new support banner filling our Facebook feeds, I often find myself stumbling to find the words to explain to my small children what these events truly mean. As an adult, it’s still hard for even me to process and digest such blatant hatred and complete disregard for human life by those that instigate these massive public attacks. So how do I explain a suicide bomber in an airport a world away to a preschooler? How do you tell a child about an attack on a night club just a few states over? The answer isn’t clear cut. And I sincerely believe that there is no “perfect” way to tell your little ones that the world is hurting and far from perfect.
But if you’re like me, and have a very tenderhearted and inquiring child, avoiding the subject just seems to bring about more questioning and curiosity. And it makes sense that kids want to know more about the scary things that pop up on the news, because they too, are connected to this world — and they have a natural compassion for the people in it. That compassion, that innocent love for humankind, that is something that I don’t want my child to lose by avoiding this topic. So with a lot of conversation and debate with my husband, we decided that the next time our eldest son asked about the latest terrorist attack, we were going to do our very best to answer his questions in an age-appropriate way.
We thought that we would have some time to figure it all out and navigate these new uncharted waters of parenthood. And then not even a week later Istanbul’s airport was attacked, and again the news reports started spilling in; our four year old asked the big question we were biding our time, hoping not to have to answer…”Why? Why are people hurting other people?” And it’s so complex and confusing, and is there is no clear answer, so with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes I prayed for some grace as I attempted to explain tragedy to my son.
“Baby boy, Mommy and Daddy promise to do our very best to fiercely protect you, and we will always love you to the moon and back. But there are people in this world, whose hearts are hurting so very badly, that instead of praying about it or talking about it like we do when we get upset or scared, they decide to take that hurt and spread it onto others. And now because of their bad decisions, lots of people’s hearts are hurting. So you may see an ambulance, Army soldiers, or even police men trying to help. You may see some people who are upset; you may even see them cry. This is because someone they love, whether they knew them or just know their story, is now in Heaven. One day, they won’t be so sad anymore. But until then, we can pray for the ones that are heartbroken and sad, and the ones who are helping to make everything okay again. Just know, that if you ever have questions or you are scared, that we love you and we will do our best to answer clearly and honestly.”
I can only share my story and hope that if you’re looking for a way to approach this awful and gut wrenching topic with your kids, that it is somewhat helpful. I’m certainly no expert. I sincerely hope that one day we live in a world where this is no longer a conversation we need to have, but until that day it’s my intention to keep things truthful with my son. As best I can for his age and comprehension, of course.
As a community of mothers, I would love to hear about your experience in addressing tragedy with your children. If it has come up, please tell me how you handled it in the comments below.