Friday, December 14, 2012
What do we say to the children when kids are killed with their teachers at school?
There’s lots to talk about today and none of it’s on the lectionary. Adults have their agenda and the kids their own in response to the Newtown massacre. But since all of us are involved with children and they are most vulnerable, we must focus on them. What do we say about Newtown and similar tragedies to the kids?
What happened at Sandy Hook School affect children differently. Some will be quite frightened. Others will not have even heard about it. The coming of Christmas will quickly overtake this event for children who are not closely involved. That is why it is more important for the adults to LISTEN than to have a set discussion with talking points cover with the child. Find out what the children have heard first. Ask what questions they have about it. Ask how they feel when they think about it. Talk with them simply and in a matter of fact, say it in a: “this is sad, but we can manage it” way. And, if they are not interested in the topic, move on and bring it up at another time.
Some themes that might come up …
Fear. Children need to hear from us that this was a very, very unusual event. One way kids know that is that it is on TV and everyone is talking about it in very emotional tones. Even the President cried when he talked about it. Most kids and their teachers are safe at school. These generally safe kids need to be reassured of that safety. The kids who are not safe at school in more dangerous urban areas, already know how to be brave and keep safe. How they keep safe and their feelings needs to be shared with the rest of us, especially the children.
It may take more than the usual courage for children who are aware of this event to go to school on Monday. Admit to them that even when we know with our heads that we are safe, it can be scary. We are dealing with many “Fear nots” of the Advent-Christmas stories in worship, think together about how the shepherds and Mary felt and imagine what they did to feel braver. Talk about what might make someone feel braver. Be specific. For fearful children,
One idea I read about was to write small cards with “Fear not” written on them and love messages to put in back packs, pockets, lunch bags or even shoes.
Teach your children a breath prayer to say when they feel frightened. (Breath prayers are one line prayers. As we breathe in we say a name for God. As we breathe out we say a pre-planned request. For example, “Strong God, keep me safe.”)
Why didn’t God stop this? That is not the way God works. God does not stop us when we decide to do something mean or hurt other people. God made us able to say and do whatever we want. It is our job to use that gift well. God is sad when we hurt each other.
A person did this – not God. The young man who hurt others was very angry and upset. All of us get angry and upset at times. It is important to remember that no matter how angry and upset we are, hurting or shooting the people we are mad at is not a good solution. It will make nothing better for anyone.
When we are really angry and upset we need to find someone to talk to. We need to tell them how we feel and what is wrong. We need to ask them to help us get things straightened out.
Simple suggestions for parents and others
LISTEN! Encourage children to tell you what they know and feel. Talk about their concerns, not yours. Their fantasies may be much worse than reality. Straighten out any misconceptions.
LOVE – lots of hugs are needed when children are frightened. Expect younger children especially to become a little clingier. It may be a good time to dig out that old stuffed animal or “blankie.”
PRAY! Together pray for the families of the people who died, for the school as they find the courage to get back to school, and for the shooter.
DO SOMETHING! Identify the helpers in the scary pictures – the police leading children from the school, the doctors and nurses. Then become helpers like them. Together buy a bag of groceries to take to the local food bank. Bake cookies to take to neighbor. Make Christmas cards to send friends in other towns. Make a card or treat for the child’s teachers.
KEEP LISTENING! Expect the event or your children’s feelings about what happened to show up in surprising ways over the coming weeks, even months. When a comment, say: “What makes you think that way?” “Why do you say that?” and ask other such questions to help them articulate their concerns for discussion.
Fred Rogers or “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” said: “when I was I boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me look for the helpers. Your will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in the world.”
Caring people. Your children can always trust them and be like them. This is what St. John meant in his Gospel when he described Jesus Christ as “the light that shining in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.” When we love, when we care, we are the light of God that no-one can put out.
May God bless us all this day.