I never want to see another story addressing how to talk to your kids about (fill in most recent senseless tragedy here).
In a perfect world, or in a world that’s imperfect, yet reasonable, such stories would be unnecessary.
Unfortunately, that’s not our world, and parents appreciate guidance when it comes to explaining the inexplicable.
Many have probably memorized those tips by now.
Remain calm. Be honest. Reassure them they are safe.
My son was 6 years old the first time we had the talk.
He nodded, not truly understanding the depth and complexity of what had happened. That was OK, because neither did I.
Days later, on a very warm September morning in 2001, I was among the many parents who walked with our children from the school to a nearby firehouse. Everyone wore a strip of mylar – red on one side, silver on the other – folded in the shape of a ribbon.
Firefighters waited outside, garage doors open to reveal the shiny red trucks behind them. The kids shouted “Thank you” to the uniformed men and women. The less shy approached and shook their hands. The music teacher led her charges through “God Bless America,” before the children were herded together for the walk back.
I noted, through my own, the tears in the eyes of the adults. I tucked that ribbon into my wallet, where it remained for many years.
I was thankful my son was too young to grasp how thousands had died, and tens of thousands were affected.
As other senseless tragedies happened over the years, I focused on the positive. There were the heroes, stepping up to save complete strangers. There were the first responders, whose sense of duty put them in harm’s way. There were the doctors and nurses who worked tirelessly to drag victims from the brink of death.
And look at this, I would tell my son. See these thousands of people holding candles, reminding us that the really good guys outnumber the really bad guys a million to one. Maybe even 10 million to one.
My son is 22 now. Those encouraging stories no longer mislead him. He is fully aware of the husbands and wives, the sons and the daughters and the grandchildren robbed of loved ones. He sees the photos and watches the videos of a tragedy unfolding.
He knows that no matter how many really good guys there are in the world, it only takes one bad guy to destroy lives.
My hope is that my son will never need the “How to talk to your kids about …” story. I also know how naïve that thinking is.
One day he may call, not unexpectedly, and I will say, “Remain calm. Be honest. Reassure them they are safe.”