Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Do We Say to the Children When Kids Are Killed with their Teachers at School?

I am reposting this article because it disappeared from the blog.  Who knows why? 
Wendy asked what we say to the children on Sunday.  As I have pondered that, it seems to me that the first thing we must do is separate what we say to the adults – and there is lots to talk about! – from what we say to and with the children around us.      

What happened at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut today will 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 of talking points.  Find out what the children have heard.  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, “this is sad, but we can manage it” way.    And, if they are not interested in the topic as a group, move on.

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 wept 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 on the best of days, already know that.  I hope that some of you who work with these children can give the rest of us ideas about what they need to hear.

It may take more than the usual courage for children who are keenly aware of this event to go to school on Monday.  Admit to these kids that even when we know with our heads that we are safe, it can be scary.  If you are dealing with the “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 ways to help ourselves be brave.   Be specific.  For fearful children…

Offer small cards with “Fear not” written on them to put in bookpacks, pockets, or even shoes. 

Plan a breath prayer to say when you 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.  That person 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:

LISTEN!  Let the children tell you what they know and feel.  Talk about their concerns, not yours.  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 “bankie.”

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 your 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.  “What makes you think that?”  “Why do you say that?” and other such questions help them articulate their concerns for discussion.

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