Several weeks ago, the kids and I were settling into our usual after-school routine — they were raiding the refrigerator and cabinets for a snack, and I was going through their backpacks to see what they brought home for me to display proudly or for me to fill out and return to school the next day (there’s always something, it seems).
As I was reading through a page of notes my daughter’s teacher sent home, I nearly had a panic attack when I got to the part about the lock down drills they’d be having that coming week. My hands began shaking, and tears started streaming down my face.
I was instantly transported back to the day last winter when we all learned about the horrendous shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I did not personally know anyone who worked at or had kids in the school, but my family and I lived 45 minutes away, and a very good friend of mine who grew up in Newtown did. My heart ached for her as she spent her morning trying to get any news she could. And my heart ached for the families at Sandy Hook. I could not imagine such a tragedy happening to my family. Like so many others, I spent the day sobbing and trying to wrap my brain around the heinous news that kept unfolding.
When I realized how visibly upset I was after reading through my daughter’s class notes, I ran into the other room to try and calm myself down so that the kids wouldn’t see me. At 2 and 4 when the shooting occurred, we did not tell our kids anything about it. They were too young to understand, and we didn’t want to put that type of fear into their minds.
And now, nearly one year later, as I tried to pull myself together, I didn’t want to explain to my kids — my daughter now a kindergartner herself — why I was so upset. Why it made me sick to my stomach to think of anything like that happening at their schools. Why it made me weak in the knees thinking of them having to huddle in the bathroom with their teachers and classmates as practice in case anything like that actually happened. Why it made me want to throw up thinking that the world we live in is such these days that we even need these lock down drills. I didn’t want to explain to them that not everyone in the world is good and that some people just do terrible things. I don’t want them to know that world. Ever.
But I’m not naive. I know they will learn the realities of the world eventually — either through us, friends, or something they’ll see on the news. (And probably a lot sooner than I’d like.) We’ve already talked to them about what they should do, for example, if they ever find themselves lost when we’re away from home, what they should do if they are ever approached by strangers if we’re not around, or what they should do if faced with an emergency. But we’re not broaching the topic of someone walking into their school with a gun.
Because this horror is not something they need to know (or fear). Again, I’d argue ever. But realistically, at least not now. Not yet. At 3 and 5 years old, they’re just not ready. I’m not ready. So for now, we’re keeping our kids in the dark. (And, thankfully, my daughter’s school is of the same mindset, at least when it comes to the younger kids. As far as my daughter is concerned, she thinks they have these lock down drills in case a wild animal, like a skunk, gets into the school accidentally.)
I know a lot of families are more forthcoming with their kids, even at such young ages, and a lot of people probably think we’re doing our kids a disservice by keeping them in the dark. But this is our family, and this is what works for us. We know there will come a time when we’ll need to talk about this kind of stuff. But that time, for us, is not now. Again, not yet.
I’m curious, though, for those of you who have had these conversations with your kids, how old were they? And what prompted the conversation? How did you approach the conversation? And how did your kids react? I’m not looking forward to the eventual conversation with our kids, but I’d like to be sure to go into it as prepared as I can, so I thank you for any insight and suggestions you’re willing to share.
October 7, 2013 at 9:02 am
I agree…I guess my shock came when in second grade they started talking about 9-11. What she got from it was not at all what I thought she would and it was not very realistic to her. Now we are not protecting her as much but she is eight now and I think that’s an okay age to start those kinds of exposures. She listens to NPR with me and still her questions surprise me. Not at all what I think they will be.
October 7, 2013 at 9:11 am
Our kids were in grade school when 9/11 happened. by the time they got home from school they already knew about it. they were watching it at school. that was very hard to explain to them. they weren’t that little, but it was the first real disaster they had ever seen. they asked a lot of questions, and i did my best to answer them without giving them to much information. if I did not know the answer,
October 17, 2013 at 10:39 am
It’s so hard. The balance thing. I agree once others are talking about it and they have questions a dialogue needs to start, but I don’t think they need to know gory details about things if they are in the dark to begin with. At least not until they’re older and can understand and process.
October 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm
I always told my students it was in case a mean dog got in the building. Last year, a fees of my students were told what happened from their parents. I reassured them I was there to protect them and that’s the best I could do.
I still frequently find myself mapping out an escape plan when we are in public. I did that for the remainder of the school year last year. Horrific and impossible to return to the semblance of innocence we had before that day.
October 25, 2013 at 9:20 am
I told my son kid of briefly what has happened, in general. He was in the habit of saying he was going to “blow stuff up” stuff being what ever it was, now at seven, he doesn’t understand why that bad to say, especially with some of the challenges he faces. He said he was going to do it again another day, (after I had been contacted by his teachers and daycare workers), an I felt so sad. I said to him “do you know why it is not nice to say those things” he said no, I told him then, that when I was a child someone did go into a daycare and blow it up. he was visible upset about it, that so many kids had been hurt or even killed. And I felt horrible, but then I explained to him that there are special precaution that people take now, like why mommy has to sign in and out of the school or the lock pad with the special code at daycare. I would have liked to have waited longer to have told him about such horrors and atrocities, but I ha to make him understand. I am happy to report we have since dropped the “blowing up” talk entirely. It’s our job to educate them and prepare them for this crazy world.