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.


20 comments:

Lauren O said...

Thank you.

Kathryn Adams said...

Excellent post. I completely agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I soooo agree

suzanne said...

Thank you for this. My daughter is also 5 and it never even occurred to me or my husband to talk to our daughter about this. I was horrified when I volunteered in her Kindergarten class today how many parents told their kids. We live in California obviously no where close to the situation. My husband and I still hated taking her to school today we found no reason to scare our child like that

Anonymous said...

I disagree; your children need to trust you and if you haven't told them and they hear it from others (which is bound to happen) then the question will be "why didn't Mom and Dad tell me?" and then "what won't they tell me in the future?" and then "I am worrying about bad things happening that they might not be telling me about". If you talk this through with them then they are reassured that you will always be honest with them.

Catrina McKechnie said...

So you're saying that I purposefully instilled in my daughter that I wanted her to feel unsafe... You're wrong... Flat out wrong... What do we do, then when they hear about it on the radio? Lie?

Anonymous said...

No if and when they hear about what happen then answer their question..but how can we say you are safe promise..that's a lie itself we can not promise it won't happen...so isn't it better to not be the one to place the fear in the first place...I remember seeing a tv show on aliens when I was 6 and the fear was unforgettable..laying in bed scared still.. I wouldn't think you would or did tell your 5 yr old about the other everday evils that unfortunately occur. Their minds over react to things..they are terrified of hairy one eyed monsters under their bed for goodness sake...they can't understand its not gonna happen to them and if most kids are like mine then all they really want to know is why..and I can't give them an answer, all is say is some people are bad. I don't think so, this is NOT something my 5 yr old needs to even be talking about. However I am loud and clear as I am an adult who is so sad and heartbroken about what evil has appeared.

Anonymous said...

We don't allow our babies to watch scary movies, violent movies or the murders that happen on the news so what makes ppl think the parents should now? Its only going scare them..especially a 5 yr old who has only been in school a few months

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this. There is so much evil in the world and if my child knew about it he'd never sleep at night or let me drop him off at school. It's not as if he's sheltered - as you stated, he's seen "bad" things, but I think this is too much to comprehend. Am I lying as one person stated, or possibly setting him up to lose his trust in me, I don't think so. Am I doing the right thing? I don't know for sure, but it's what I feel is right. If you want to tell your child and you think that's right - then that's fine too.

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Jessica Patton Pellegrino said...

Thanks, Catrina and others, for your perspectives! I believe in "parenting to the child" -- that there's no universal formula for anything except that ALL children need to be loved unconditionally, and safe, and to know both these things. Only you can gauge what your child needs to know (and what you need them to know), and I would NEVER suggest that anyone should or shouldn't have told their child. We've had a media embargo in our house and cars since the shooting. I'm sure I would have made a different choice if she had a slightly older sibling (our 15-year-old agreed to not talk about it around her and didn't think we should tell her); if she went to school with older, in-the-know kids, or in Newtown; if we knew someone directly involved; etc.

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