I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
December 20, 2012
I decided not to tell my kids about Newtown.
In retrospect, it was the wrong decision.
Not for my son — He’s five years old and still firmly believes that when you die, you can “hit the start button again” and “get more life-zes,” no matter how many times I’ve tried to explain that real life doesn’t work like a video game.
But my daughter is eight, and while it made sense to keep the news to ourselves over the weekend, I realized as I let her go to school on Monday that someone was almost certain to talk about it in her classroom- particularly since many of the kids have older siblings.
And so I was nervous on Monday while she was at school, wondering what I was going to say if she asked me about what had happened, and how I was going to explain if she asked me why I hadn’t told her the news myself. But when I picked them up from school that afternoon, both my children were in good spirits, seemingly oblivious to what had happened on Friday.
“How was school?” I asked tentatively as they piled into the backseat.
“Great!” Punky said. She went on to tell me about her day and all the things that had happened, with no mention of what had been plastered across the news all weekend long. I breathed a big sigh of relief. Maybe, somehow, this would not become a part of my kids’ consciousness. Maybe they would miraculously escape having to worry that someone was going to come into their school and kill them, even as I now worry about it for the next twelve years. A mom can dream, right?
“Mommy, I’m afraid to go to school,” my daughter said a few hours later, while I was working on dinner.
I put down the paring knife. “Why?” I asked her carefully.
“Because of what happened in Connecticut.”
“What did you hear happened?” I said, trying to keep it casual.
“Twenty children were murdered,” she said solemnly, “and six teachers.”
“Who told you this?” I asked. She named a classmate, and went on to share all the lurid details the classmate had given her.
No, friends, my child didn’t learn about Newtown from a caring family member. She learned about it from an 8-year-old friend. Epic mothering FAIL. And now it was time for major damage control.
Bad things happen sometimes, I told my daughter, but she needed to know that she was safe. “Think about it,” I told her. “There are thousands and thousands of elementary schools across the country. And this is the first time anyone has ever done this in an elementary school, in all the years that schools have been around.”
“And now,” I added, “since this happened, your teachers all had a meeting this afternoon to go over your safety plan. So even though you were already really safe, now you’re even safer because everyone’s thinking about it and how they can make sure this doesn’t happen at your school.”
She didn’t look convinced.
So I lied.
“And the guy who did it in Connecticut just walked into the school,” I said. “But your school has locks on all the doors, and no one can get in unless they’re let in by someone, right?”
She nodded, suddenly seeming much less afraid.
“So that guy wouldn’t have even been able to get into your school,” I said. Finally, she looked satisfied. A locked door? Now that made sense. And I know the psychologists among you are shaking your heads right now, but if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you should know by now that I don’t always do things “right.” Sometimes, I just do what I have to do to get by– or in this case, to help my kid get by. Sorry.
“Anyway,” Punky said with bravado, “there was one six-year-old girl who survived. She just played dead and he didn’t shoot her. So that’s what I would do. I would just play dead.” A fierce look came into her eyes. Suddenly, she seemed far more sure of herself. “Thanks, Mommy,” she said, smiling a little before heading back into the den. I stood where I was as tears came to my eyes.
My tiny, pigtailed daughter now knows to play dead if a man comes into her classroom and starts shooting.
That’s her reality.
And it sucks.
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OK, I need to tell my 8 year old now. He’s not as able to articulate things the way Punky is, but I see that I have to tell him. Punky always impresses me with her ability to make sense of the world. And I KNOW you can take a lot of credit for that as her mom.
Thanks, Kathy. 🙂 There’s no easy way to talk about it. That’s probably at least some of the reason I opted not to. It’s SO difficult to bring up.
My oldest is only five too, but I did tell her what happened Being she is five she forgot about it within 20 minutes and hasn’t talked about it since then, nor did anyone at school say anything to her about it, that I know of.
Even though she heard it from a friend, I think you handled it well.
To “playing dead”, that sucks that she knows that, no child should, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
I know, but man. That certainly wasn’t something I ever, EVER thought about at her age.
Baguette is two, so we don’t have to discuss this with her now. But we’ll have to discuss it eventually, because one way or another, this kind of safety issue will appear in her life.
I don’t think your lie is all that bad. I could see saying something like that myself.
In fact, the more I wonder what else you *could* tell them. That they’re not safe? That this could happen to them? Adults can barely handle crime statistics that show how safe they’re likely to be. Kids just need to feel safe.
Oh, my heart.
You’re right. It sucks. The more stuff like this happens, the more I want to homeschool my kiddos. But, I do have to remember that it is such a random and infrequent event. But no matter how scarce, it is just disgusting and heart-wrenching.
Yikes. I played it the same as you and haven’t told my 5yo or 7yo. As of today, Thursday, I don’t know if or what they’ve heard.
If I had been in that situation back when my son was young, I would have felt I had to talk to him about it – and I would have but there would have been alot of hand wringing before I did it!
You don’t want to traumatize them but you want them to be aware and feel same in their everyday environment.
It’s a sad sad sad situation. I live in Connecticut about 45 minutes away, I’ve worked in an elementary school library and cafeteria and when I think of the ages of the victims I instantly picture the faces of the little kids I worked with. Or I see a child in the store and try to guess their age.
When I read about the one girl who played dead – oh my God that broke my heart and I started to say “Hey…” to my husband and stopped because the thought of reading it out loud like “this is a good thing”, just made me sick.
I think whatever any of you say to your children will be ok and they will understand because our kids trust and love us.
I agree with you. Sometimes it is necessary to lie or stretch the truth just to get by or comfort them. I thought I never would before I had a child but then reality set in. I found myself reassuring my three year old recently that I wouldn’t die for a long, long, long, etc. time which of course I have no idea whether or not that is true. But what else can you say?
Your daughter is reassured and comforted and that is what matters most. 🙂
I actually like that you let things play out this way. I think it was smart to not present her with something to worry about, especially something that is out of her control. If you had come to her with this news, she might have sensed that this was a big deal and something on which she needed to focus. But you didn’t, and here’s what happened – she found out about a horrible tragedy and talked about it with her peers and you which resulted in her coming up with a solution that comforted her as well as discovering some facts about how others are watching out for her. She’s eight, and it’s completely alright for her to not be exposed to senseless violence. When she is older, she might be able to help prevent tragedies such as these or to provide support to those in need. Until then, I think it makes sense to let her gain skills for compassion, sympathy, and dealing with fear in an age-appropriate manner.
I chose to tell my 6 year old son, but only because I knew it would be discussed at school. If I could have spared him I would have done so. It was the most surreal conversation, and at the end he just asked if he could watch cartoons. I don’t know what got into his head, but I can’t believe I had to have that conversation. I wanted to make sure he understood to listen to his teachers, even when it doesn’t make sense (like get in a closet).
I will admit that I haven’t told my 8 year old and haven’t had the news on in front of her. The school sent an email out on Sunday stating that staff would not volunteer information but would only respond to kids questions and concerns with age appropriate answers.
As far as I know she knows nothing. Plus she talks nonstop and would bring it up if she knew. Plus I can’t reassure saying nothing like that has happened around here. 9 years ago there was a high school shooting in our small town and a student killed two boys.
Today during the holiday parties at our public school, they have 20 seconds of silence “for Connecticut.” They announced it over the PA system. I had mixed emotions because my kindergartener and first grader don’t know anything about it.
Yeah. It sucks. It totally, totally sucks.
My kids read the newspaper from an early age. They quickly realized that almost all of the other kids had pretty major errors when discussing the news because they heard fragments of things from their parents or they saw it on TV. They also discovered that when they already knew about something that was reported in the paper, that the paper had errors also.
If your kids read the paper they will be exposed to all sorts of things that need explaining. Did you have to explain about the kindergartners whose bus was hit by a train in Egypt LAST MONTH with 50 children killed? This was as devastating to me as Connecticut but we tell ourselves that that’s a long way off. And we tell ourselves that our school is different because it has locks. You did the right thing to reassure Punky with an explanation about locks because that’s what we do as adults to move forward.
[…] Like you, I was thrown into a total tailspin by the Newtown shootings. There are no words, really, to describe the horror of that day, and the powerlessness I felt as a parent in its wake. I wanted to shield my children from the knowledge of what happened, but discovered that that was impossible. […]
As a teacher, this was REALLY hard to deal with. I teach fourth grade. My kids are all pretty much 10. Monday morning, our principal came into every classroom in grades 4-8, and simply told the kids that if they had any questions or concerns about being at school that they could talk to us teachers, or her, any time. They all looked at me, and we ended up having a brief, but heartfelt conversation with NO details. Many of the kids really wanted to get into the nitty-gritty, but I held them back. I simply outlined the basics. Then, I tearfully laid out the simple truths that I would, without question, give my life for theirs if I had to; school is probably the safest place they could possibly be, and I would do anything to make sure it stayed that way. Then, I let them ask a few simple questions, some of which I re-directed with “Please ask your mom and dad that one, I want to make sure that they give you that information.” I also gave them time to write on some angel patterns that I had printed off the internet, some were blank, some had a short prayer on them *gasp I know, public school… but sometimes I think we need God in school*. They could color them, or write on them, etc. Then, we hung them outside the door with string, to wave for all to see. I also put up a sign on the door that read, “In this room, you are safe, you are loved!” I have not had one concern since, although I had one student say, tearfully… “That was beautiful” funny… Kids are remarkably resilient, if we give them the chance…