We believe in Santa Claus; the Elf on the Shelf magically appears each morning in a different place; and we have a fairy door so that our household sprites can come and go at their leisure. If you can’t tell by now, we embrace the whimsical, the magical and fantasy… in many forms. And with that, we have perhaps naively sheltered our child from the harshness of the world, just while we still can.
Our daughter is in first grade so I know that we only have a year or two left before she is clued into the evils of the world. I know that we are so incredibly lucky that tragedy, poverty, and war have not touched her personally. She’s lost a dog, a great grandmother and one of her favorite dolls, but she has been so very fortunate that that’s all the personal strife that has befallen her. Again, I know how incredibly lucky we are.
I intentionally did not tell my daughter about the shooting at Sandy Hook. I did not want to mar her mind with the news that kids her age were brutally murdered in the midst of a madman’s rage. I did not want her to imagine that happening to her or her friends. I did not want her to know that some people (real people —not Maleficent or the Evil Queen—her personal touchstones to baddies) aren’t well and will harm the innocent. That cruel reality of the world will be known to her soon enough. So that said, I did not mention the shooting to her. I did not expect that Santa would be the one to tell her of the tragedy.
During a Christmas caroling party we ventured around a friend’s neighborhood singing “Jingle Bells”, “Deck the Halls” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” One of our stops was a house completely decked out for the holidays including trains, trees and thousands of lights. A man dressed as Santa was posted in front in a grand chair greeting the children. He took photos with them, asked what they wanted for Christmas and then he did something we did not anticipate. He had his “elf” go and get a dozen or so candles that had been lodged into Dixie cups, had us all light them, and asked for a moment of silence. Before the quiet, he gave a speech sprinkled with words like “tragedy,” “victims,” and “died.” Santa held his head down, parents teared up and the kids just looked confused. Then the questions started.
“Mommy, why are you crying?”
“Because I’m a bit sad.”
“Well, because of the moment of silence.”
“Why did we do that?”
“To pay tribute.”
“Because something sad happened yesterday.”
“Some people died and they shouldn’t have.”
“They were killed by someone who was crazy.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever know. But it’s a very sad thing.”
She begged for details, always one to push the boundaries of knowledge. She thinks she is far older than her six years. I’m sure she would be able to handle the details, I just didn’t want her to know the horrible facts of the Sandy Hook tragedy, to try to let her enjoy the not-knowing while she can. There will be more Sandy Hooks, Columbines, Virginia Techs (unless something radically changes in our country and culture). The fact that she learned about the tragic event from Santa just adds a surreal, and even sadder hue. Although I think it is a parent’s choice on the what, when, and where we tell our kids about these kinds of stories, often times we don’t have a choice. On occasion Santa will spill the beans.
At what age do you think it age-appropriate to discuss tragedies in the news with your children? Did you tell your children about what happened at Sandy Hook?