In a world where there is another massive loss of lives all over the news every few weeks, I often find myself stumbling to find the words to explain to my small children what these events mean. As an adult, it’s still hard for even me to process and digest such blatant hatred and complete disregard for human life. How do you tell a child about a mass shooting in a grocery store, a church, or an elementary school where innocent people, including children, have died? 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 brings more questioning and curiosity. And it makes sense that kids want to know more about the scary things that pop up on the news or their friends are talking about at school 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, 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 mass shooting or terrorist attack, we would do our very best to answer his questions in an age-appropriate way.
After the Buffalo, NY incident, we thought we would have some time to figure it all out and navigate these new uncharted waters of parenthood. And then, not even a few weeks later, there is a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas, 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 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 the tragedy to my son.
“Baby boy, Mommy and Daddy promise to do our very best to 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 officers trying to help. You may see some upset people; 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 who are heartbroken and sad and those helping to make everything okay again. Just know that if you ever have questions or are scared, we love you and will do our best to answer clearly and honestly.”
I can only share my story and hope it is somewhat helpful if you’re looking for a way to approach this awful and gut-wrenching topic with your kids. I’m certainly no expert. I sincerely hope that we live in a world where this is no longer a conversation we need to have one day, but until that day, I intend to keep things truthful with my son. As best I can for his age and comprehension, of course.