Monday, April 29, 2013

How Much Can You Protect Them?

A young man was hit and killed by an oncoming train in our town on Friday.  He was just 16 years old.  Such a horrible tragedy that the whole community is still processing.  He was in the same class with my cousin.  While I would have preferred to shield my daughter from this altogether, rumors of what was holding up the train in town were already flying madly by the time I picked her up from after-school care.  

In our school system, the middle school building is divided and one section is "upper elementary" (4th and 5th graders) and the other section is middle schoolers.  The high school is dismissed first, then the middle school and upper elementary, then K-3.  Apparently parents held up by the train called the teachers at the middle school to notify them that they would be late.  Then there was the discussion on the bus of various stories traveling the grapevine.  One of the rumors was that a young child had been hit.  Other rumors were saying that a car was hit on the tracks.
I always try to make sure my kids can get whatever questions they have answered by me.  I want them to be comfortable asking me so that when these things happen they aren't scared or confused by what rumors they may hear and don't perpetuate the spread of blown up rumors.  I try to be as truthful as I can in my answers without sharing too much of the details that might scare them more.  I let them keep asking questions until they tell me they don't have any more or they change the subject.  While it doesn't always totally eliminate their fears or questions, it usually does calm them down to where they will logically think through their fears instead of panicking.  

The questions are sometimes very hard for me to have to answer.  I don't want her to have to know about these bad things in the world.  But I'd rather she hear it from me where she can calmly process it than to get worked up by hearing rumors at school.  I let her know that I didn't think it could have been a young child walking home from school because of the time.  Later, when the news confirmed it was a high-schooler, I did let her know that it was true that a high-school student was hit and killed walking on the tracks.  
While my daughter didn't have a lot of questions on Friday and we didn't talk about it over the weekend, I did want to warn my daughter that it would probably be discussed a lot by the kids and maybe teachers at school today.  She had obviously thought about it some on her own a bit and she wanted to know the "why's".  I explained that we don't know much yet about why because it isn't always made public when its a sensitive thing like the death of a kid.  She asked about the train having breaks and why they couldn't stop if they saw them and I had to explain how the train is bigger and heavier than a car and takes longer to stop so they probably wouldn't have had time even if they saw him.  I had to tell her I didn't have a lot of answers yet but that if she heard things at school she should make sure they are true from a teacher or myself.  I used her facial expression and the questions she asked as a gauge on whether my answers were scaring her or causing anxiety.  She was calm and matter-of-fact and I think she was as prepared as I can make her.

I believe that its important to let kids learn to experience these hard parts of life in an age-appropriate way as they grow.  A child who has been totally kept away from these things and then suddenly has a tragedy that hits close to them is much less emotionally prepared to deal with that situation than one who has been gradually exposed to these things and learns that life moves on and people move forward and we celebrate the good where we can find it.
When we had our break-in a few years ago it was traumatic for all of us.  No one slept well for a while.  The first night we sent the kids to stay at my mom's where they were comfortable and away from our dramatic reaction and distress.  The next day when we brought them home we showed them the new alarms and security features we had added.  We also went through drills of what we would do if different things happened (we had done this before but it was a good way to re-demonstrate).  Even now two years later when there are funny sounds outside at night my daughter will ask if things are secure for the night. Once she has confirmed that the dogs are patrolling and all security measures are in place, she is reassured and asleep in minutes.
It is a sad fact that innocence in life cannot last forever and our kids can't stay babies.  They need to learn how to deal with crisis and process it with our help in the beginning so that they are able to deal with it on their own when we cannot be there to protect them.  Using these tragedies in age-appropriate increments as teaching tools will allow them to use their own knowledge to protect themselves, predict crisis and take aversion tactics, react during crisis, and remember to move forward follow crisis as they become older and more independent.  Give them an extra kiss tonight!

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