strategies for handling sad, tragic news as a family

Amy Mascott
Dec 15, 2012
Today, my heart is heavy with the news of the shooting in Newtown, Conneticut, and though I am not at all close to the area and though I do not have friends or family directly affected by the tragedy, I am having a hard time knowing what to do–as a mother, as a person, and together as a family. I really want to ball up in bed, watching news reports and weeping like I did in the days following 9/11–though as a mother of a 9, 7, and 5 year old, I know I cannot. I’m in a totally different place than I was eleven years ago. Today, I have to figure out what to say to my kids–if anything. I have to figure out how to handle this as a mother–so I take care of myself. I have to figure out how to handle this as a spouse of an elementary school administrator–so I don’t lose my mind. I have to figure out how to handle this as a person so I don’t fall into a hole of worry and despair. I have to figure out how to move my family forward together–so we are not scared every day we leave the house. I’ve done a lot of reading and talking today, and though my answers are not perfect, they give me some peace in a time when peace is almost impossible to find. Here’s the skinny. . . Strategies for Handling Sad, Tragic News–As a Family: This is not fool-proof, and it’s not for every family. But for us, for a public school family with a Kindergartner, first, and third grader, and a husband who also works in a school building, this is what we are doing. Turning off the news. The news is, and has been, off in our house–and it usually is. But especially during this time, the news is off. It’s hard, though, when the newspaper headlines are heart-wrenching. But I deliberately didn’t allow Maddy to read the detailed accounts in the Post; I gave her what I thought she needed, and that’s it. Talking to the kids–honestly. I sat down with Maddy and Owen and told them: There’s been a shooting in a school in Connecticut. Many children were killed. We don’t know many details yet, but as I learn them, I’ll tell you. All I know is that I wanted you to hear it from me before school on Monday. Many kids may be talking about it, but if they’re not, please don’t bring it up. It’s scary news, and it’s hard to hear–which is why their moms and dads will tell them when they’re ready. All I know for sure is that you are safe in your school. You are safe here at home. And that tragedies like this are really, really unusual–and that we hope they never happen. So we will pray for the families, the kids, the teachers, and everyone involved. We will say lots of prayers. And when you have questions, ask Daddy or me. We’ll tell you what we know. Okay? I love you so much. Listening to the kids. Maddy has had a lot of questions: Why did he have a gun? Where do people get guns? Why did he have a gun at school? What are the families doing now? What happened to those kids that day–like that morning? Did they feel pain? I answered what I could–and I listened. Any time she had questions. I listened. Making age-appropriate decisions. We told Maddy and Owen, but we didn’t tell Cora. We didn’t think, as a Kindergartner, that Cora needed to know. However, if she asks me about it–if she hears it at school–I’ll talk to her. I’m not sure if we did the best thing, but from what I read, it’s cool to make age-appropriate calls. Watching and hearing President Obama. We did. I loved his press conference, and I found great comfort in listening to him. I thought that maybe, just maybe, Maddy and Owen would as well–and they did. President Obama’s Press Conference on Sandy Hook Elementary Tragedy Following our normal routines. Activities this weekend– church, park, Gospel Drama rehearsal, swim, and playing–that were on our normal calendar stayed on our normal calendar. Kids were hugged, kissed, loved a little extra more–yes!–but they also did chores, helped, and had to listen. Giving ourselves alone time. My husband spent some time with one of his buddies this weekend, and I went to the gym and spent some time solo. I needed to. He needed to. And because we all process things differently, alone time sometimes helps just as much as being surrounded by people 24/7. Giving ourselves a break. It’s okay to lose patience with our kids–no matter how much we love them. And even though I can’t fathom the grief that the parents of fallen children will feel, we need to offer ourselves some grace. It’s okay to cry over spilled milk–sometimes it’s the silly spilled milk that kicks those tears in and those tears feel pretty good at times like this. Praying. Big-time. Adding the families, teachers, parents, first responders, police, investigators, and all people involved to our prayers helps. It’s easy to freak out about big issues–gun control, mental illness, school security, you name it–at times like this, and for sure this tragedy should be an impetus for lawmakers to make big changes. However, it’s important to note that a whole lot of solace can be found in taking time to thank the women and men who make it their job to spend six hours each day with our children. The first line of defense in an event like this. The people whose split-second decisions and bravery under pressure make big differences in our babies’ lives–every day. Teachers. Thank them. Tomorrow–and if not tomorrow, then the next day or the day after that. Teachers have a hard job–an incredibly difficult job–and often it’s a thankless one. Because of the hard work that our teachers, administrators, building service workers–everyone in the building–does every single day, one thing that I’m encouraging my kids to do is to take time tomorrow to really thank their teachers. Many people are doing the same thing, and I encourage you to do the same: Thank a Teacher Day. ——————————————————————- When I found out the news of 9/11, I was teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream to a class of 9th graders. Though we are incredibly close to DC, we carried on as normal as we could that day and the days following. It wasn’t easy–but we did the best we could knowing full well that many of our students’ parents worked at or near the Pentagon. During the times when the sniper hit our area, I walked into my high school each morning and smiled nervously at the police who shined their flashlights into the woods that lined my school. They were looking for the sniper, and I was plowing forward, focusing on keeping my freshmen and sophomores as calm as I could. We all knew nothing–we understood nothing–but we, as educators, tried to keep to our normal schedules despite the chaos around us. Teachers. Thank them. Tomorrow–and if not tomorrow, then the next day or the day after that: Thank a Teacher Day. Huge thanks to the many reliable resources I leaned on for this post: Common Sense Media: Explaining News to Our Kids Montgomery County Public Schools: Violence and Grief Resources American Academy of Pediatrics: Talking to Kids About Disasters American Psychiatric Association: Talking to Kids About Disasters Washington Post On Parenting: How Parents Can Help Their Children Cope Washington Post Local How can we protect our kids in a culture that accepts guns? I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, by Liza Long (an incredible article about mental illness, from a mother’s perspective) Any other bits of advice or resources you’ve leaned on? Please do share them–I know I need to learn more! Hugs, hugs, and more hugs to you and your families, and huge prayers to the families affected by the tragedy in Sandy Hook, CT. 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