Today, local, national or international tragedies happen so frequently that they can feel almost commonplace. When a hate crime, mass shooting, act of terrorism or other terrible and hate-inspired event occurs, one of the first questions many people ask is, what should we tell the children? How can we explain to them what has happened?
Despite our best efforts to protect youth from the details of hate-motivated events, we can never assume that they are unaware of what is happening around them. Through the internet, social media and mobile communication, youth—even very young children—quickly become aware of events of significance in their community and world, and need opportunities to process their feelings and share their fears in sensitive and age-appropriate ways.
Feelings of fear, powerlessness and vulnerability are common experiences all people share whenever acts of hatred, terrorism, or mass shootings occur, and feelings are personally compounded when the perpetrators are targeting a specific group of people to which we may identify. Children and teens are not immune to these feelings, but adults can help by providing information that answers their questions, giving them opportunities to express how they feel, reassuring them that adults in their lives are working to keep them safe, and helping them channel their feelings into positive actions in their own lives and communities.
Before any discussion begins, every effort should be made to create an environment where children will feel comfortable expressing their feelings and views. The strategies and tools in “Creating an Anti-Bias Learning Environment” provide a useful resource. Establishing ground rules for discussion can be a positive way to begin (see page 11). As a family member engaging in these conversations, you will not need formal “ground rules” but it is important to set a tone of safety, respect, listening and confidentiality.