Talking to Kids About Tragedy: Will you discuss the Colorado shooting with your children?

Today I woke up to the tragic news of a gunman who opened fire on a movie theater in Colorado, killing at least 12 people and injuring up to 50 more. Such a senseless act is difficult to comprehend, and like many parents I’ve pondered about whether or not to talk to my children about this tragedy.  My children are 7, 5, 5 and 3, and at this time I’ve concluded that they are not mature enough to process the idea of a mass shooting.

This event has caused me to do some reflection about what I’m willing to talk to my kids about.  I try to live my life with eyes wide open I want to know what is going on in the world and I’m very intentional about educating myself on the issues, even when those issues are hard to face.  I think that is why I am sometimes ambivalent about how to talk with my kids about difficult subjects.  I want my kids to be educated and empathic citizens.  In fact, I spent last week in Ethiopia and had some very big conversations with them about issues like poverty, famine, and privilege.  But thus far, I have been relatively silent with them on human violence.

I try to shield my kids from news involving guns in particular.  I didn’t talk to them about the Trayvon Martin case, even though I felt very emotionally invested in that particular story.  I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer in how to deal with this, or a magical age when kids are ready to have the veil of innocence lifted to expose the evil that is in the world.  What I do know is two things: 1) I want my kids to be adults who are informed about world events, including violence and injustice, and 2) I don’t think they are ready right now.

Jafta had a fireman come and talk to his school.  In the weeks following, he talked endlesslessly about all the ways he could die by fire.  His stress level went up, and he seemed afraid.  Similarly, I remember a time around that age when my parents were watching the news and explained a bit of the cold war to me.  I remember being so scared of being bombed by the Russians.  I thought about it every night.  I was always prone to anxiety, and so that information was hard for me to process at that age.

With that in mind, I never watch the news around the kids.  I don’t think they are old enough to need to know about intentional death or killing.  At this age, I don’t think that the potential for empathy outweighs the potential for fear.  At some point, it will.  Not yet.

What about you? How old are your children? Will you talk to them about the recent shooting?  Do you have a philosophy that guides how you talk to your kids about tragedy?

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You can find Kristen blogging at Rage Against the Minivan, or avoiding housework over at Facebook or Twitter.

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