Yesterday the deadliest school shooting in 5 years happened right down the street from our neighborhood. As I watched the news this morning, I was overwhelmed with sadness and fear. Fear not for myself, but rather for the my children. It is petrifying to think of the world they will grow up in, the violence they will see, and the hate they will learn. I find myself desperately trying to find ways to teach my children love and hope. I not only lay awake at night worrying about the physical safety of my family, but I worry about the emotional development of my children as well. How do we preserve our children’s natural desire to love in a world with increasing amounts of intolerance and hate. I feel helpless to the internet and all forms of media today, which fuel more hatred and provide an easily accessible platform with ideas for turning that hate into vicious crimes. We live in a time of social media, where are children are exposed to scrutiny and criticism at an increasingly younger age and more than ever before. The opportunity for a child to be a victim of bullying or, even worse, become a bully to others has become easier and more rewarding. The news is filled with angry politicians and horrible hate crimes. Parents must begin to realize the power and responsibility we have to change the next generation, especially in light of this recent tragedy. We need to help give our children the right tools to choose love, and to cope with hatred. So how can we help children understand and deal with this hateful tragedy, and what can we do to teach our children love and tolerance?
Turn off the news when you are with your children. I love to watch the news while getting my children ready for school or preparing dinner. Unfortunately, during times of tragedy the news is filled with violent imagery and hateful language. It is important to protect small children from exposure to this type of reporting. Although they may not be able to process the information depending upon their age, the images alone can provoke fear and feelings of sadness. If they do see something that appears to upset them, make sure to refocus and show them images that illustrate human kindness and love. For example, a nurse helping a patient or citizens volunteering to help.
Be Developmental Appropriate. It is important to understand where you child is developmentally and answer their questions appropriately. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s specific questions. Invite him or her to tell you anything they may have heard about the tragedy, and how it makes them feel.
Point Out The Good– In every tragedy, there are dedicated and beautiful people that sacrifice their own safety to help others. I never felt so honored to be a part of the field of medicine and surrounded around people who are tirelessly working to help others. It give me peace to know that there are so many more kind people in the world than evil. It is important to highlight these acts of kindness to your children. Of course address the evil, but point out all the acts of bravery and sacrifice.
Incorporate Acts of Kindness Into Their Daily Routine. Teach them love with acts of kindness. Whether you hold a door open for someone, help an elderly person with their groceries, or donate food and supplies to the victims of the recent hurricanes, lead by example. Use these opportunities as teaching moments, explaining the importance of helping other. Ask them how it makes them feel. This is just as important as introducing your child to new foods or teaching them the alphabet. We need to start teaching the lessons of love and tolerance early on in our child’s development.
Promote independent thought and build confidence. With our children being exposed to bullying at much younger age, it is important to build character traits that allow them to overcome criticism. Help them to find their talents and foster those skills. Whether music, sports, or theater, find activities that make them feel good about themselves and build confidence. If your child is at an age where they are curious about social media, explain to them the downfall of these outlets. Make sure to talk about bullying ahead of time and explain that they should feel comfortable coming to you with any negative feelings. Set ground rules for internet use and make sure your children know that you will be monitoring them. If at anytime your child is acting negatively towards another child, you need to sternly institute consequences and explain why these behaviors are hurtful.
Monitor, Monitor, Monitor. It is hard as a busy parent to constantly monitor the electronic devices of our children, but it is imperative. In moments like this, there can be graphic videos and imagery on the internet. Make sure you are monitoring of all your children’s social media accounts, know their passwords, and keep close supervision on their activity.
Lead by Example. I encourage all parents to be role models for your children. They watch you, they admire you, they emulate you, they adore you, and they want to be like you. You will mold them into the adults they will become and the parents they will be for their own children. The most important lesson you can teach them is to choose love!