What do we say to the children?

By Michele Murphy
Columnist

With so many traumatic new events in recent weeks that have shaken many adults, I can’t help but ask, “What do we say to the children?”

For those tempted to say, “That’s up to parents,” and turn away, don’t.

If adults are feeling unsure about current events, how are children – and teens, for all their sometimes impossible “attitude” – able to sort out and settle the incomprehensible loss following a mass murder at a concert that was supposed to be fun, or the loss of homes and schools in hurricanes and floods, places where kids can usually feel safe?

Since the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 that killed 168, including 19 little children at an on-site daycare center, Americans repeatedly have tried to explain the inexplicable.

Four years later, two high school students, who spent years planning a grizzly, multi-pronged attack, killed 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School outside of Denver CO.

Two short years after that on a sky blue Tuesday morning, we were stunned by terrorist attacks in New York, and Washington, D.C., and the crashing of a third plane reportedly heading to D.C. in Shanksville, Penn.

The speed with which we have been witness to school shootings, terror attacks and workplace violence has accelerated in nearly mind-numbing rapidity.

School districts today routinely provide teachers training so they are better able to help kids cope with crisis. Reputable organizations like the American Psychological Association post online tips for parents to use as talking points with their kids, or to help identify signs of depression or post traumatic stress among kids and teens.

Adding to the alarming number of natural disasters and violent attacks, kids have to cope with classmates who become fatally ill, or the loss of parents, siblings, grandparents to accidents, disease or overdose. It’s almost become a gift, if you can call it that, to be able to say that someone died in their sleep of natural causes.

This week I had the pleasure of covering four stories about our kids. The first was a safe walking program at Avon Lake’s Eastview School attended by 415 kids from kindergarten through 4th grade. The second was Sheffield-Sheffield Lake’s Homecoming Parade. Hundreds of kids and teens marched or were driven in the parade, while hundreds more watched as they went by. The next day, I witnessed kids from Avon Lake High School’s Key Club and Sheffield-Sheffield Lake’s Interact Club help run a pizza bake-off as part of homecoming week. Finally, I was surprised to see a group of five Sheffield Lake middle schoolers, who are Girl Scouts, seated among the crowd of adults attending the Lakefront Connectivity meeting. They were accompanied by two troop leaders who clearly believe that community service starts at early ages.

Good for all of them. Bravo to all of them and thanks to the adults – some on their own time – who are committed to assuring kids learn, are safe and have fun.

Isn’t that what childhood should be about?

We know we cannot prevent some tragedies from happening. However, we can alleviate some of the sting. I suspect many of us can recall from our own growing-up years a kind neighbor who took time to be nice to kids, just like we remember the ones we thought were crabby or mean.

Isn’t this the time for all caring adults – and that should be everyone of us, right? – to do just a little more to assure our kids and teens that we have their backs in this incredibly confusing, often scary, world? The beauty is, it doesn’t require a huge effort or expense to make a difference.

Donate the books your own kids or grandkids have outgrown. Local libraries will take them, and some may offer a donation slip in return. As you retire or switch jobs, do you have office or art supplies that could be donated? paper? pencils? markers? staplers? Teachers could use these to decorate their rooms, for class projects or to keep on hand when a child leaves something at home.

Are you willing to step up to volunteer at a nonprofit, school, church group or library?

How about surprising the heck out of those noisy neighborhood kids by treating them to freshly-baked cookies after school (but do check with their parents first for allergies)?

The most important gift you can give anyone – a child or adult – to help them through a tough time is yourself. We don’t have to have all the answers and it’s okay to tell them that. Sometimes all they really need is someone who will listen to them. The amazing thing about that is, in my experience, kids often surprise us by showing how wise they are and, without their ever planning or knowing it, just may help that adult feel better, too.


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