By Eliska Counce, TSB Columnist
Making sense of the senseless. It’s a difficult enough project for adults. But when a mass murderer attacks like a terrorist in a suburb that could be yours, it can be thrust upon our children as well as us adults to deal with the cognitive dissonance that results when the brain can’t come up with reasons for acts of inconceivable horror.
So if an adult has trouble continuing to feel okay in a world where psychopathy rips jagged holes in what most humans value most, it can be a mostly impossible task for undeveloped brains to wrap themselves around the entirety of an event like the massacre that took place at a movie theater just like the one down the road. Just like the ones our children have spent hours in this summer.
So as a parent, what is the most appropriate way to address this recent tragedy with your kids? Shield the under-7s. Your child, if 7 or under, should be able to completely fly under the radar of this story. Please protect them. This is a scary, scary story. Hopefully, you are NOT letting your children be in the room while you watch the news. This story is inappropriate for small children, and you should take active steps to keep them from being exposed to both local and national news.
Related: don’t immerse yourself in traumatic stories on the news, either. It’s traumatizing. Limit your own viewing. Don’t bring it up. Let them.
If your child has symptoms of mental or physical distress over this event, then is the time to verbally process it. Watch for signs of anxiety, withdrawal, sadness. But if they’re bouncing around unaffected, don’t work out your own anxieties through them by making your tween or teen talk about it or change their routines in order to soothe yourself.
If they do want to talk about it: Be age appropriate and use words they can understand. Less information is definitely more. Be reassuring. This event is actually quite random, not common, and one like it happening again statistically is very unlikely. But don’t make promises you can’t keep like “Mommy will never let anything happen to you.”
Assure your child, however, that the world is generally a place where you can reasonably protect your own safety. It’s a broken brain. Psychopathy exists. It is the result of a combination of nature and nurture that just produced a dangerous person. There is no more reason to these murders than that, sadly.
With more attention to mental health and substance abuse treatment in America, the less likely these kinds of tragedies will occur. Children need to know that even though some people choose to do evil, we are not powerless against it. Love and caring for each other can help prevent such violence. Giving of ourselves and our resources are worth it to keep our society more safe. Avoid stereotyping people by race, nationality, or religion. Mental illness is not delegated to just one culture.
During this difficult and demanding time in American culture, I want to emphasize the importance of helping children of all ages feel safe, creating a context they can understand developmentally that includes what’s being done to protect them and conveying that violence is not an answer. The best we can do as parents when bad, bad things happen to innocent people is to take the opportunity to convey as many powerful and positive messages to our children as possible.
Let’s just hope such a learning opportunity as is the Aurora shootings doesn’t present itself to us again anytime soon.