While perusing the shelves of the elementary library, I came across a children’s novel that I had forgotten about. Instantly, I was flooded with warm memories of The Tale of Despereaux. If you’re not familiar with this children’s book-turned animated film, let me fill you in. This story follows the adventures of a smaller than average, odd little big-eared mouse that enjoys reading literature, rather than feasting on it. Kate DiCamillo opens this work of fiction with the words,
“The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story.”
These words carry a much heavier weight for me today than they did many years ago; when an adolescent Katelyn first read them. Today, the world sometimes seems much darker. Particularly in the wake of recent tragedies in Parkland, Florida, Marshall County, Kentucky – and New Orleans, Louisiana. In these three incredulous school campus shootings, 19 people lost their lives; with an additional 27 people injured. A total of 46 individuals and families were forever impacted. One can only speculate how many more students, parents, faculty, and community members were affected by these unimaginable events.
What story are we telling ourselves about these tragedies? What picture are we painting for our children about these heartbreaking events? What creative interpretations are our children being impressed upon by their peers? A narrative IS being shared with your child. A complex narrative that can be horrifying, inaccurate, or quite possibly traumatizing if given by an uninformed or ignorant source. Our children trust us, and it’s our responsibility as parents to communicate a safe – age appropriate – message, explaining these terrible things. According to parenting coach Megan Leahy “…kids in the midst of a crisis: They feel everything. The younger the children, the less they understand what they are feeling.” Parents communicate with more than just their words. Coded conversations amongst adults at the dinner table or extra tight, especially long, tearful hugs at school drop off can communicate a confusing message to children.
I’ve included links to three articles that provide a framework for how to approach this very difficult topic. These articles share a similar message. You have to talk to your child(ren). Be purposefully observant. Children will communicate with more than just their words about what they are thinking and feeling. When your child gives you signs that they need to talk and/or when you feel that you are equipped with the words and ideas you want to share, it is important to communicate. They need to know that their safety is a priority. Your child may have questions; educating yourself will help to facilitate a more meaningful conversation with your child.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. We have a responsibility to be the light for our children in what sometimes can feel like a very dark world.
Here are some valuable resources you can read:
- American Psychological Association: Talking to Your Children About the Recent School Shootings
- NPR: How to Talk with Kids About Terrible Things
- Family Focus: How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings
Katelyn Ewing is a kindergarten teacher at New Morning School in Plymouth, MI. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.