As a nation, we are in the initial phase of reacting to the news of another mass shooting. Right now, there is sadness, shock, a scramble for information, constant news coverage, and expressions of sympathy for the victims. Right on the heels of phase one comes phase two, which includes finger-pointing, blaming, more gun debates, fear and intense political strife.
As a mom, I'm thinking about phase three: the long-term effect of the shooting on the trivial details of the days of our children. The fear and anxiety trickles down, and it drips onto society's littlest members. When my three kids started the new school year a few weeks ago, there were new, heightened security measures in place at their schools, a direct response to the horrible Newtown school shootings last school year.
"Why can't you walk me into my class, Mama?" my 6-year-old asked last week, as she struggled to carry her backpack with her newly casted broken elbow. "I'm not allowed to come in this way anymore," I explained, and I found her first-grade teacher and asked the teacher to help my little one with her backpack and with the removal of her jacket once inside. "But WHY can't you?" my daughter persisted, and I hesitated.
I didn't want to say, "because it's not safe to let people in through the back without any identification check." I didn't want to say that for two reasons: 1) I truly believe that the chances of something horrible happening at our local elementary school are very slim (maybe it is naïve, but I do not walk around in fear that my kids are unsafe at school) and 2) I didn't want to create a situation where my daughter began to doubt her own safety at school.
I looked at my daughter and replied, "It's just the rule. It helps keep track of who is in the building and how to find people, stuff like that."
As the tragic news from Navy Yard pours in, I prepare to take steps to control the flow of information as it reaches my kids.
• The television news and radio news will not be on when the kids are in the house. I will close the Internet browser on my computer after I use it, so that my 10-year-old doesn't encounter shocking images or scary stories when she sits at the computer.
• I will give limited, age-appropriate details to my 10-year-old and, in a separate conversation, even more limited details to my 6-year-old, and I will provide no information about what happened to my toddler.
• The only reason I will initiate a discussion about the shooting with my older kids is past shootings have shown me that there is a very good chance they will hear rumors or conversations about the shooting when they are at school, and I prefer to be the provider of information whenever possible. Rumors and speculation help nobody.
• We will talk about the helpers and all the good people who are working to make things better, such as the amazing first responders and the volunteers. We will stress that only a few people were trying to be hurtful but that thousands of people are trying to be helpful. There is more good than bad in our world.
• Although I cannot guarantee my children that they are 100 percent safe, I will reassure them that we all take precautions and that I wouldn't send them to school, to ballet, to swim, to ice skating, etc, if I didn't trust that they would be safe. Kids pick up on the emotions of their parents and teachers. If we give off a sense of extreme anxiety, the kids will reflect our emotions. Adults should express their darkest fears to other adults, not to their children.
Sometimes there is such a thing as too much information. Alongside the kids, take a break from the digital technology and the constant news reports and coverage. Nothing makes kids feel safer than spending quality time with their families. Perhaps it is a good night for reading extra books, playing board games, or baking a special dessert. The best way to protect our kids from feeling rampant anxiety is to build secure attachments with them and take reasonable precautions to live safely. And then, as in everything, we have to choose hope.