Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why I'm Not Telling My Child About Sandy Hook

All weekend I have opened my mouth to tell my five-year-old daughter, in age-appropriate terms and at just the right moment, about the shooting in Sandy Hook, CT, a town not so far from our own. The moment wasn't ever right, and tell me, what are the appropriate terms with which to relay a massacre of schoolchildren to anyone, no matter their age?

From my daughter's school administration to friends who work professionally with children to peers with kids the same age or close as mine to bloggers and psychologists,  all sorts of sources are urging parents to "frame the conversation" ourselves, to not let school, classmates, the cashier at Trader Joe's, CNN or whomever do it for us, for her.

But my husband and I don't think we should be the ones to introduce this idea that is sure to evoke anxiety. Does this mean we're putting this burden on someone else, or are too afraid of our own feelings and can't deal with her emotions, never mind our own? No. Are we shielding her from inevitable knowledge that the world is a sometimes scary, often unpredictable and, on occasion, desperately sad place? No. (She gets that, having already experienced death, natural disaster and creepy Halloween displays.)

What we're doing is opting not to clue her in to the fact that the building where she spends five days a week, with its cubbies for outdoor shoes, easels, picture books, planet Earth rug, window-box gardens, lovely, kind teachers and first friendships -- this place called "school" where she will be for the bulk of the next 13 years of her life -- is less than the second-safest place in her still-new and small (for now) world.

Are we keeping her from information she may glean tomorrow morning or next week from a source other than us, at the risk that it may be delivered in a confused or confusing manner? Yes, we are, and on purpose. Because we are her parents and she is five, and thus -- regardless of the cred her fine educators and Sesame Street and in-the-know older neighborhood kids carry -- the information we convey has the weight of authority because, let's face it, we are the authority at this point in her life. If we of whom she was born tell her, in even the most general and positively spun manner, about this tragedy, then we aren't just received as the bearers of bad news; we're the bad-news makers.

(What's that saying, "Parents don't just push your buttons; they installed them"?)

Were she a kindergarten student in the next classroom over just a few towns away, yes, we would have had this conversation Friday. But we wouldn't have "framed" it for her, under those horrible and graphic circumstances, either.

We choose not to frame it for her now, because we have the choice not to -- because unless the danger is eminent or personally relevant, at no age is it appropriate to needlessly scare or introduce a sense of being unsafe to a young child...especially where it may not be introduced otherwise. And if it is, we will listen to her concerns and her questions, correct any misinformation, attempt to make sense for her of information that is all too correct, and reassure her that we are safe, she is safe, and everyone in her world is doing all they can to keep it that way. Which feels comforting and right to hear, at any age.

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr