When Bad Things Happen, What Do We Tell the Kids?

Posted on by Alyson Jones. Posted in Blog, Huffington Post.

October 22 2014 is a sad day in Canadian history. A young reserve solider was shot and killed in our capital city of Ottawa by an unknown gunman. This young reserve solider was standing guard at the war memorial, was doing his duty to his country and honouring those that have done so before. What should have been a day of pride and honour ended in the worst way possible. My heart goes out to the family and friends of this young man. As the days and stories unfold we realize that all of us as Canadians have lost some of our innocence today. We do not have all of the details yet and the story continues to develop minute by minute. We know that one suspect is dead and was shot in the Parliament Buildings, and that our country is on high alert. There is no doubt there will be many questions and concerns that need to addressed, but right now we do know that something very bad has happened and that the violence in the world has struck much closer to home than we anticipated.

Most of us are still reeling from this news and trying to make sense of what has happened today. But we also need to respond to our young people and help them understand what has occurred. As our children come home today from school they will have questions and we will need to give them some answers. How do we help our children feel secure when our world has been shaken? How do Canadian parents help their children make sense of something that does not make sense to us?

There is much we will need to understand and process around this horrific event, but here are some tips to help you talk with your children right here and right now.

  1. Talk to your children. Do not brush this under the rug. This will be a source of discussion at school and other events. Children of all ages will be discussing this tragedy.
  2. Denial of a “bad thing” never makes it better. Our children need to talk about this event; it is their country and their world too. It is natural to pull together and discuss things that frighten and disturb us.
  3. Ask them what they heard at school? Find out what they know before you provide your views on the information.
  4. Provide age appropriate information. The types of discussions you have with your child will depend upon their age and what they have heard already.
  5. We all need information and will be drawn to watch this on television or social media. We cannot protect our children from the massive amount of news out there, but we can still be in the lead with helping them know when to shut the information down. Allow yourself and your children to listen to the news, but to not get lost in the news. Stay sensitive to your children and remember some information alleviates anxiety, but too much information just overwhelms.
  6. If they have not heard about this incident, which is unlikely, provide them with a brief overview. Let them know that a young soldier was killed on Parliament Hill today while doing his duty and that the gunman who shot him has also been shot and killed by those protecting the parliament. Let them know that responsible authorities are looking after the situation.
  7. Let your children ask questions. You do not have to have an answer to every question, but just letting them ask is healthy and moves emotions forward.
  8. Do not rush to try to make your children feel better. Give the feelings associated with this “airplay”. It is natural to be angry and scared in this situation. Let your children get their feelings out. Talk about the feelings, and let them know you feel those same things but that feelings move and change.
  9. Connection with others always makes us feel better during upsetting time. Reach out to your children and let them know they can reach out to you and others.
  10. Let your children know that people pull together during these difficult times. Something like this also brings out the best in human nature as so many people are helping those that are affected and suffering.
  11. Remind your children that there are procedures and protocols in place and they can rely on the adults that are responding and doing their job.
  12. We cannot pretend that the world is a perfect place. The world is a complicated place filled with pain and joy, but we can have heartfelt conversations with our children about tragedy. This can lead to more intimate and authentic relationships between ourselves and our children.
  13. Remind our children that there are far more good people in the world than bad.
  14. It is still a good world, although a complicated one, and bad things can happen in a good world.
  15. When faced with the worst we need to turn towards the best. Give your children a hug, let them know that they are loved and you are there for them.