Letting Children Speak When Afraid

As I sit listening to the news about those lost and suffering in Connecticut, I have started to receive messages and emails from colleagues asking if I will write about the horrific events of December 14.  I am a parent as well as an educator.  I mourn along with the nation for the lives cut short and for the families who will never be the same.  I mourn for our sense of safety and security.  School should be a safe place.  Children going to school should not have to worry about being injured more than falling on the playground and scraping their knees.   People sending emails to me are looking for something – something comforting or something they can share with parents in their schools.  Experts on the news are offering good advice.  They say that children should be told that there are bad people and bad things happen but we are with good people and we are safe.  I agree that we need to be honest with our children taking into consideration their ages.  We need to acknowledge what has happened while helping our children to feel less afraid. 

All that is left for me to offer is the advice that I give in so many situations.  Listen.  One word – so simple – yet so hard to do in the face of our own sadness and fear.  As adults, we worry that we won’t have the answers or know what to say when children talk.  We talk trying to impart wisdom when the greatest gift we can often give to children is the chance to speak.  Children need to say how they feel and have it acknowledged.  We need to tell them it is okay to be afraid or sad or worried.  Children can see us feel the same way and use us as an example of accepting emotion and coping.  They need to ask their questions even when we don’t have an answer.   Children need to express what they feel without worry that their feelings are not going to be considered valid.  They need us to stop talking. They need us to listen.

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