Talking to Your Kids About the School Shootings


After the horrific school shootings in Connecticut I was asked the important question what do you tell your children and grandchildren about such tragedies; How do you talk them through it? There's a lot of things you can say. What they need to hear is the truth: Both sides of it. This is what I told my four children:

The dark side of the truth is that there are sick, crazy, dangerous people out there and we need to be as careful as we can. Life is fragile and there are evil people who selfishly prey upon the innocent.

The light side of the truth is that most of the time, most the places you go—indeed, the vast majority of the time and the vast majority of the places you go—you are safe. The truth is that we should not live in fear. The worst thing you can do to people who act this way is to give them the sick fame they seek and to give them the fear—to give them your fear. The best thing you can do is to go on living, and live well and live happy. And seek to reach out to those in need and to be a helper as Mister Rogers said:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You 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 this world." — Fred "Mister" Rogers

Further, in the midst of such terrible violence, insanity, cruelty, and evil remember these words by Gandhi:

Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it; always." —Mohandas K. Gandhi

Thus, children, we don't give in to fear and we don't let fear rule us. The only fear we should use is the fear that protects us, to be cautious and to be careful. But not to hide. And not to retreat into easy cynicism. The truth is that most people are sane. Most people are good. And there are always (always!) more helpers than there are harmers. Look around. Look around today at all the people who are helping you. Look at all the people who smile today.  Look at all the people, every single one that passes in the car next to you, at school, at home that haven't made the news. Look at the thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, and billions of people today who have not made the news because they have just been decent and they have just been good. And those people sadly don't make the news.

There is much suffering all over because of those who have died, families that are torn apart, communities that are grieving and fearful. Be compassionate. Reach out. Help. Pray. In the New Testament, Jesus said:

"Blessed are they who mourn with those that mourn."

Maybe as a child there's nothing you can do about what policies and laws the adults and politicians will enact. But here you can mourn with those that mourn. As a child you can't go to the people in Connecticut who've lost their loved ones. But you can still help here. Where you live you can make a difference even as a child. Look around in your own home and your own school. Seek out those who suffer (mourn) and be kind to them. Let them know they are not alone, that they matter, that they are loved.

We don't minimize the tragedy by any means. We do put it into perspective. We don't respond to evil and hatred and violence and insanity with fear, and giving in, and terror because then the evil wins. And that is not acceptable. A chalkboard in Newtown read, "Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are strong." We need to teach our children that to be strong is to be compassionate; to be powerful is to be wise; and to be kind is simply an intelligent way to live.