"Mommy... I'm scared." This is a phrase we as children have uttered many times growing up. Perhaps it was because the light had just gone out and we were afraid of the dark, or at the top of that big hill because it was the first time we were going to take it on without training wheels.
Maybe it was said standing outside the new school we were starting because we just moved into the neighborhood. Whatever it was back then, that made us scared, I'm relatively certain, if you were living in America, it wasn't because you saw other children being shot in school or because you heard your parents talking about terrorists taking over your shopping mall.
Sadly though, as parents and educators these topics now have to be added to the list of things that worry our kids and worry us, because we don't know how to explain it. So how do we talk to our kids about these incidents and fears? How do we bring up the subject? Do we bring it up at all?
As an educator and someone that has worked with hundreds of parents and children I've seen the struggle. We have the answers for why you don't have to be afraid of the dark and why a new experience can be challenging but rewarding in the end. But I don't know too many adults who can honestly look into the eyes of a weepy 5 or 6 year old who says they are afraid of the lockdown procedures they now have to do in school and say that it doesn't give them pause or cause anxiety.
This is the world we live in. A world where children are taught how to hide should a gunman try to overtake their school, a world where we walk through the mall not always focusing on the pretty store windows, but on the faces and looks of strangers that might make us feel uneasy. We live in a world where innocent people are shot during holiday parties, or attending a sporting event with their friends and family.
But we also live in a world where children happily run through the park with their friends, parents and children spend hours ice skating and enjoying hot chocolate, a world where children sing about joy and happiness in holiday concerts and dig their toes into the sand as they build a sand castle by the beach. We have darkness in the world, but what we have to instill in our children and remind ourselves is that there is still endless amounts of light.
Although we might dread having our child ask us about something horrible, having them feel comfortable and safe enough to ask is actually wonderful. When children come to us with questions, it opens up a dialogue so that we know what's running around in their minds and what we need to help them work through.
Telling our children that we don't have the answers to why bad things happen to good people, but that far more wonderful things happen in our world every day might just give them the perspective they need to worry a little less. When children say they are scared about something they might have seen on the news or heard about from a friend in school, ask them to talk to you first. Ask them to tell you exactly what they heard and what makes them scared. Address what they are asking about, rather than broadening a subject that might include details they aren't' even aware of.
If you suspect something might be bothering your child, start the conversation off with something light and positive, then discuss the issue that's upsetting them, and close the conversation with another positive point or two. Let them know that they can talk to you anytime they feel scared or nervous. Also be sure to help them feel safe and secure by controlling the things in their world that you can control. If you are scheduled to pick up your child from school at 3:00 p.m., be there at 3:00 p.m. If school starts at 9am and you can get them there five minutes early so that they can settle in comfortably and feel calm and not rushed, make it happen!
We can't control everything in this world, but our children count on us as parents and educators to make them feel safe and provide structure to their lives. If the only thing we can do as parents is keep our promises, show up on time, and make sure they are tucked into a warm bed at night with a story and kiss on the forehead... we've done a pretty good job.