The recent mass shooting in Orlando leaves us, as adults, afraid, worried, and reeling with more questions than ever about our future. But to have to explain such a tragedy in terms that a young child will comprehend is difficult, to say the least. Dr. Carmen Harra, a world renown psychologist who has been in the business for over thirty years, and her daughter, Alexandra Harra, a counselor, share their tips on how to approach mass shootings with your children.
Here is how we believe this topic should be approached with children:
Explain through an analogy. All children’s movies reflect the battle between good and evil that exists in our world: often there is depicted an adversary who tries to destroy the world and a superhero who tries to save the world. Rather than giving your children a lengthy lecture on the history of terrorism, gun control, and politics, offer them an analogy from their favorite cartoon. You can easily pick out a popular superhero and remind them of the time they had to fight a battle and lost. Sometimes that happens, too, but superheroes always come back and makes sure that good wins in the end. Explain that the person who hurt those innocent people was the villain, while we are all superheroes who have to work together to triumph over the villains. A child will be much more receptive to this sort of colorful explanation than any other “adult” explanation we offer.
Let them be innocent. Let your children be children while they can. They will have plenty of time to feel the weight of the world later on. Tell in them in large part what happened but don’t get into too many details of the shooting or describe the gruesome parts. Reiterate to your child that the most important part of such a terrible event is that love transcends any tragedy. Tell them that although there are many bad people in this world, there are many more good people who outnumber the bad.
Teach them to be careful. At the end of the day, what these tragedies teach us is that we should always remain alert. Instill in your young one a sense of vigilance that can save others and themselves in the long run: if something seems wrong, tell an adult right away. It’s terrible to have to teach children that they have to be on the lookout for bad adults, but this is simply the world in which we live. Ironically, children have a much more whole and uncompromised sense of integrity than most adults.