As adults we should do all we can to shelter children from graphic scenes and violence that their young, developing minds are not yet equipped to make sense of. Unfortunately, despite our best intensions to do so, children are all too often exposed to information or scenes of violence, horror and hate. Such images enter our living rooms via media, children overhear adult conversations, they learn about it from friends in the school playground or maybe even stumble across a news feed as was the case for my teenage son last Friday night.
As parents, it’s sometimes difficult to know what our response should be when our children are confronted with news of such violence and unexplainable tragedy. However, such events can affect children significantly, as they do us. Therefore, they should not just be ignored. If your child is aware of the tragedy that unfolded in Christchurch last week, let me encourage you with a few ideas of what you could do to ensure your child has healthily processed what they have seen and heard.
Firstly, let your child know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Many children may feel sad or even angry, so let them express their full range of emotions and help them explore the feelings that they show. By listening to what they think and feel, you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they might need. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, or will understand, but be willing to answer their questions honestly. Children are good observers but can be poor interpreters of events that are outside of their level of understanding. Therefore, it’s important to help them process what they have seen and heard, particularly graphic images seen on television.
It’s also imperative that your child feels safe. Many children don’t have a good understanding about the notion of distance and may feel that what happened is very close. They can also have great difficulty distinguishing between what’s real and what’s fiction so it’s important to let them know that while this event has indeed happened it will not affect them directly.
Just because children may be aware of this recent incident doesn’t mean that they should continue to be exposed to it. The visual nature of the media means that images recur repeatedly. This can be distressing to some, while desensitising to others. The news over coming weeks will remain relentless about the massacre and its aftermath. It would be a good idea to avoid keeping the television on. We should also be aware of own actions. If children see their parents focusing on something too much, they will tend to do the same.
Finally, it’s always heart-warming to see the empathy that children often show when others are hurting. Action can be a great antidote to feelings of stress or helplessness so it may be helpful for children to find a legitimate course of action. Prayer is one avenue. Jesus says ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’. As Christians, prayer is our direct communication with God. He yearns for this from us and wants to be our source of comfort and help. Another way children can respond might be to send a sympathy card to the New Zealand nation, c/o the New Zealand Prime Minister or write a letter of condolence to a local mosque.
When children are confronted with images of such horror and tragedy it’s important to realise that their worlds can be affected in ways that we can’t even conceive of as adults. As you help your child to process their thoughts and understandings don’t forget to also remind them about the many wonderful things that are still happening in our world. Unfortunately, this is not something that the media is good at reminding us about.
Mrs Vicki Gunning / Head of Junior School