In a world where we shield our children from tragedy there comes a day like December 14 when shielding is not enough.
The news about the tragedy will spill out.
Grief is at large during the moment of impact.
How do we provide the truth to our children without scaring them?
This type of tragedy is actually more common than we realize. The only difference between everyday loss and today's tragedy in Sandy Hook is that today everyone is watching. When friends, parents or siblings die and we have to share the loss with our children, it is just as tragic as today's shooting. Often, children are so shielded that they are unable to understand what happened when they are told that someone has died. They have not been a part of the journey of life, which always includes loss.
Instead of experiencing healthy grieving when they are told the news, they experience confusion as they go from the world of fairy tales and good endings to the world of tragedy. Very often there is no bridge between the two and many children will fall into the gap between the story world and the real world.
Isolation comes next as they fall behind trying to catch up with their emotions as the world moves on so fast. Not only are they in pain because they feel the loss, but they also feel angry and anxious, as they cannot understand any of it.
We must include our children in our grief. Not only does it help them avoid the confusion of loss, but it also helps them discover their own strengths and their heart's ability to heal itself.
So here are some tips on how to bridge this gap between life and loss.
Look them in the eyes. When your kids come home, make sure you hug them tight but sit by their side so you can look them in the eyes when you tell them the news. They will need to see your authenticity and your vulnerability. They will need to see your heart breaking and then mending. You serve as a mirror for them so they can see their own reflection and their own healing taking place.
Always answer their questions without hiding from grief. Cry in front of them and remember that vulnerability is a strength. Reassure them, as it is important to share with them that this tragedy is not likely to happen to their school. But it is natural for them to be afraid that their school will be next. Make sure you listen to their fears and work with their teachers to make them feel safe again.
Have them journal about this experience. Ask them to write down their feelings. Journaling creates clarity, especially in kids. Their minds are looking for communication and expression, so when you sit to have the conversation with them have some pencils and paper handy. Start writing with them -- you need to be the example so that they can copy your expression.
Steer away from TV images. As a parent you want to be able to control the way your child will be receiving the news. Make sure you choose a specific segment with no violence that you have watched yourself prior to letting your child watch it. Be prepared.
Learn from your child. We must make sure we walk by their side when they are experiencing the aging aftermath of loss. Kids are not necessarily more resilient; they are just better able to leap back into the living world and start over. Learn from them, as they are better at life after loss than we are.