Lately it might seem the world is unraveling around us. Just before Christmas we witnessed the deep heartbreak of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. On Monday, it was a double bombing in Massachusetts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Then on Wednesday night a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas. In these tragedies children became victims. As parents, we acutely understand the loss because we know the chasm the death of a child can create, even if we haven’t mercifully experienced it personally. Our hearts tear open at the thought of never having the joy of seeing our children grow up. We reach out in thoughts and prayers for those who have experienced such devastating loss.
This week makes it difficult to write about soccer issues when so many people are hurting. At the same time, I’m sure there are thousands of confused children whose parents are equally confused on how to talk about these events to their children. When acts of violence are so random and sudden, children (and we adults) feel helpless. The media latches onto the videos, sound bites and theories that are played unrelentingly so that it’s difficult to shield your child from any of it. How do we comfort our children so they can feel safe and calm, especially when we ourselves are confused and concerned?
We can only do so much to console our children, but if we do it regularly and calmly, they will be reassured. I am devastated personally at these tragedies, watching images of people so horribly damaged either directly by injury or indirectly by being the friend or relative of someone injured. I feel their pain acutely and understand their agony. A friend’s daughter died on 9/11, a bright young woman on her first business trip to New York and so excited about being in the Twin Towers that she called her parents just moments before the plane struck. These horrible things happen and touch our lives forever. As parents, we need to insulate our children from the worst aspects of the stories while being honest about the nature of the event. Andrea’s parents ran the restaurant we always stopped at after soccer practice. As soon as we parked our car out front, they set out our drinks on the table. They were good people, who raised good children. Robbie and Bryce knew them well. So I had to be honest about Andrea’s death — the boys were acutely aware of the Towers falling — and had to answer their questions about how this could happen. Their fear that they could also be victims wasn’t so much voiced as implied. Eventually, they accepted that they were not in imminent danger and that we would protect them. But the event came up again and again as the world raged around them with wars, shootings and accidents. We had to be vigilant to when fear was seeping in and be sure to maintain a positive and strong attitude that they were safe.
While we can do our best to isolate our children from such horrifying incidents, kids have a remarkable ability to discern that things aren’t quite right and ask why. Add to that friends at school who might have a more worldly view of events along with glimpses of tragedies from the T.V. or newspaper, such that our children pick up on danger and anxiety. Trying to find the language to talk to our children about these incidents can be difficult. However, I remember an interview that Fred Rogers gave several years ago, that has now been oft repeated on the heels of these tragedies. Many of our kids may have no knowledge of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, his show no longer regularly available, and many of us may have found his approach to talking to kids too full of treacle, but kids loved him and his gentle attitude about life’s ups and downs. He said "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’" I find this point of view not only comforting, but true. At Sandy Hook, Boston, and West we witnessed hundreds of cases of human kindness and assistance.
Our kids know little about politics and fanaticism and inhumanity. They live their lives expecting to be protected from danger, to be loved, to share in moments of joy, and to achieve at the things they like. When they come in contact with these serious and tragic events, they have tremendous confusion because they have no context in which to place the experience. As parents, we can provide a positive context. We can assure them that these events touch very few lives despite the media onslaught of images and talking heads. That, on the whole, we are all safe. Bad things do happen, but they don’t happen to most of us. When they do, the grief and emptiness is unfathomable. When they happen to us, there’s another level of attention we need to administer to our children. But in most tragic incidents, our role is to let our kids know that the world is a relatively safe place to in which we exist, and that as their parents, we will be ever vigilant to avoid any unsafe event we can. We should give our children this sense of being enveloped in love and safety by our actions. Be sure to say, "I love you" every chance we get, hug our kids when they leave for school and when they come home, let them know how proud we are of them for all their accomplishments, be sure to read to them books that highlight peace, joy and positive behaviors, tuck them in every night, and put a note or two a week in their lunches or backpacks that reaffirm how much they are loved and wanted. It seems like so little, but for our children it’s their cocoon from anxiety.