When we are faced with a national tragedy, helping children cope becomes a pressing issue. Should we tell them? Or do we not tell them at all, if they are very young?
Look at the recent national tragedies in the news. We may have to deal with anything from terrorist attacks to school shootings. Children of eight, when 9/11 occurred, were generally grateful that their parents had helped them cope with that tragedy and explained just what was going on.
At a less intense level, but still of national interest, we also have to cope with the tragedy of injustice, poverty, crime, evil, murder, theft and all the things about stranger danger when it comes to safety on the streets.
Here are 9 tips for helping kids cope
1. If your child is very young and has an anxious personality, you may well have to approach the subject later because anxiety can only increase.
2. Bear in mind that they are not totally isolated and will be exposed to a national tragedy by what they may see on TV, smartphones and of course through their friends.
3. Concentrate on the fact that these are isolated incidents and generally, we are perfectly safe and surrounded by good people. This is a good way of helping them to stop worrying unnecessarily. A tragedy at a national level is, after all, a rare event.
4. Older ones may ask about national gun control or the lack of it. Then we have to explain issues such as the justification of drone attacks which are supposedly helping national security. Another tragedy often overlooked.
Yes, it is an unjust and cruel world but we should be helping to steer them to thinking how they can make it better through tolerance, honesty and supporting weaker members of society at a national level.
5. Our own attitude of being positive and our own values and ethics will be invaluable in helping to guide the discussion.
6. Avoid the temptation of making them too mistrustful or even sad when they see the cruelty and injustice created by awful conflicts.
For example, it may be very hard for a child to cope with the fact that 4 million Syrian children have had their childhood destroyed by the war there. Show them ways to help through charities and so on.
7. We should be aiming not to cosset our children but helping them to be resilient. We also need to stress the compassionate element so that they can learn that society will be shaped by them.
If people are full of prejudice and hatred for minorities or diverse sections of society, then this will lead to even more hate, rather than love.
8. With children who are 7 or 8, it may be best to leave the delicate question of the death penalty till they are older.
But we have to start to introduce the whole area of crime and punishment, the need to keep law and order and why people end up in prison.
9. Finally, we should always remind our kids that they are an extremely privileged minority when we look at developing countries where children are robbed of their childhood.
They may not have enough to eat or drink and they may even be conscripted to fight a war in a child army. We can encourage them to participate in distance adoption programs which are a great way of raising awareness.
We should be very much aware of the tragic suicides caused by cyberbullying. Another national tragedy which is not given enough press coverage. It is a strange irony that we have warned our kids about stranger danger time and time again.
But when they are in the safety of their home, they may well be unaware of the dangers lurking in their computer or cell phone. Not exactly a national tragedy but still a worrying problem. Kids and teens really do need guidance and advice here but that will be another post.