What do you tell your kids when tragedy strikes? I know it all depends on how old your kids are. A conversation with a teenager about what happened in Las Vegas this week is much different than a conversation with a five year old. Do you even talk to your kids about these things? Do you know what to say? I know we all have our own opinions about whether to have the conversation or not, and if so, how much info is enough versus too much.
My son is nine and I believe in being very honest with him. I have always felt that way. In fact, I never really gave it much thought as to being honest or sugar coating things- I just started out with honesty. I have certainly never considered pretending things like this didn’t happen.
I’ll never forget when AJ was 3 years old and our beloved boxer, Buster Brown died. I’m telling you, Buster was the BEST dog ever. He took care of us, loved us so much, let us know when AJ was crying as a baby and let AJ pull his ears and poke his eyes when he was a toddler. But when he was 8, he had some major health problems and we had to put him to sleep. I’ll never forget that awful day.
AJ was old enough to realize that Buster wasn’t with us anymore and that allowed us to have many conversations about death, dying, heaven and missing our lost loved ones. I know he was very young, but I truly believe he understood what we were talking about- as much as a 3 year old could. To this day, we still talk about Buster and how we’re sure he’s up in heaven, farting, drooling and chasing tennis balls. I’m forever grateful to this dog for letting his life be a lesson for AJ. It really warms my heart.
A few years after Buster died, my mom’s husband, Dave, died of cancer. Dave and AJ were really close. They were best pals and enjoyed going on walks, playing with marbles, watching Star Wars and so many other things. Dave did not have any kids of his own, but was such a great Papa. In Dave’s eyes, A could do no wrong. When Dave died, AJ was really sad and missed him, but he also understood it. He understood that Papa was up in heaven and we often talked about how he and Buster were up there playing ball and having fun. It was really sad, but also very sweet.
As AJ got to be school aged, he started learning about things such as the attacks in New York on September 11th. Once again, I felt like I had to be honest with AJ about what happened. Of course, I kept it to where I thought it was age appropriate, but also honest. I explained to him about terrorism, and how some people in other countries hate people in ours. I explained how there were so many people in those buildings working and doing what they normally did and how they lost their lives. We talk about it every year when it comes around and how it makes us feel. I think it’s so important to have that open communication.
Now, with this tragedy in Las Vegas, we’re once again talking. The morning the shooting happened, I thought about talking to him about it, but I left for work before AJ woke up. To be honest, I was in such shock and so sad, it probably wasn’t the time to talk about it anyway. That afternoon when he got home, I asked him about his day and he told me some of the normal things he usually tells me. Then he went on to ask me if I’d heard about what happened in Las Vegas. At this point, I realized someone had brought it up at school. I told him that yes, I did hear about it, and asked him what he heard. He didn’t know a lot of details at that point, but knew that a gunman had killed and injured many people.
We have our best conversations when AJ is in the shower, so that night, when he was warming up in the water, I asked him if he had any questions about the Las Vegas shooting. I don’t recall what he asked me, but it was that moment that I decided that again, I need to be honest with him. Of course I would love to tell him that the world is perfect, everyone is nice and nothing else bad will ever happen, but that is not reality. I do not want to scare him, but I do want him to know what real life is. So, I explained him in a gentle way, that there were thousands of people at a concert, having a good time and suddenly this crazy man decided to shoot as many people as he could from a window up in a hotel room. I told him I didn’t know why this man did this, but that police would try to figure that out. I told him that it scared me and reminded him of our many conversations about September 11th and how this tragedy reminded me a lot of that awful day. I explained to him that this was a crappy day and that I felt sick to my stomach. As I do a lot, I reminded him of why I tell him I love him ten million times a day. Our lives can change in an instant and if something bad happens to one of us, I want him to know – to REALLY know- that I love him.
And after we talked about just how horrible this day was, we moved into what we could do. I said that while this terrible shooting could cause us to stay home, stay indoors, not go out and have fun and live life that we weren’t going to do any of those things. We were going to continue to have fun and we were going to continue to be good people. That was our plan. All we can do is go on with life and be good people. And he agreed with me. I asked him to go to school the next day and fill his friend’s buckets- meaning do nice things for people and that I would do the same at work. I explained that it didn’t matter where we are- Las Vegas, Denver, even around the corner from our house- that bad things can happen. But that’s not going to stop us from living. I love that he got it. He understood what I meant.
I think it is so very important to continue talking to our kids about this kind of stuff. Certainly I don’t want to bring it up so much that it’s all he thinks about, but if we don’t talk to our kids, then they are going to talk to others and possibly get the wrong information. Yesterday (2 days after the shooting), I asked him again if people were talking about Las Vegas and he said one boy told him that the gunman had 50 grenades and 50 guns. I explained that I hadn’t hear about any grenades but yes, he did have a lot of guns. That led to a discussion about gun control- which I won’t get into here.
In some weird way, it helps me to talk to AJ about these kinds of things. I try to see things from his perspective and give him mine, and it comforts me. He’s only 9, but I feel like he’s so wise and caring. I do not want him to feel like he has to take care of me or make me feel better, but in his own way, he does that.
As I stated in the beginning, I am only doing what feels best to me when talking to my son about what is going on in the world. You may do it differently or not at all. Or you may not know what to say. Maybe this will help you a little.
I wish you and your family peace, love, goodness and safety.