I’m writing this blog after the events at Chardon High School in Northern Ohio. I travel through several times per month and it’s not a place where you would expect teen violence to happen. But it did. My heart goes out to the victim’s families and their community. For many of us it’s hard to imagine a greater tragedy than an unexpected loss of a child or a friend.
In my life, I have spent the last 25 years helping people deal with death and dying from hospices to helping people deal with the death of their children. I can tell you, it’s never easy and it never gets easier. I don’t care how many times you deal with it, it’s never easy for a person to come to grips with death. In some cultures, it’s easier because people know how tenuous their grip on life is. They also tend to live their lives more.
With all the violence occurring in our society, our children feel more vulnerable than ever before. Schools have systems to help children and young adults when these events happen. They talk about it in ways that help your children better understand what happened. These people are trained in help but they have a challenging job at best. There are never enough people to make sure every child gets the critical attention they need. Plus, many children struggle to share their feelings with others even when provided a safe environment to talk. As parents and grandparents we need to pick up the slack. We are given this opportunity to help our children dealing with death and violence in schools. The hard part for many parents is to understand how these things happen and overcome the powerless they feel to help their children.
Here are a couple of ideas to help you start the conversation with your children. Ask questions about what’s happening in their lives and the events they see. Give them a chance to talk about their daily lives. Give them an opportunity to talk about different things and focus on what they have to say and, as importantly, what they don’t say. Listen and show empathy but be ready to ask some follow up questions. It’s sometimes hard to listen without judgment but remember these schools are very different from the ones we grew up in. I found parents who understand how things have changed are more able to listen to what their children say. The media coverage on the violence in Chardon will be non-stop. Your kids need your help to process it and get through this time.
The second idea is to understand how you feel and own it. Its normal to feel concerned when something happens in your own community, but the farther away you are from the incident, the easier it is to not to discuss it at the dinner table. The problem with this is that your children will be inundated over the next several days through the media and school administrators who want to make sure that it doesn’t happen in their schools. In our interconnected times, your children and young adults are able to access an incredible amount of information about the event. Most people tend to spend time researching things they don’t understand and try on their own to understand what’s happening. That’s not such a bad thing, but many sources don’t have your children’s best interest at heart. The only person who can provide them with good information and the discussions that should follow is a well prepared parent, grandparent or loved one. Take time to prepare for your discussions. Understand what your children might need to know and then make sure you take the time to discuss it with them. You should also feel free to discuss your feelings about what happened. Keep in mind the age of your children and target your discussions and sharing. This is where you can excel because you know your children better than anyone else.
The final idea is know when to say when. People are affected in different ways by these things and you need to know when there is a discussion to be had and when you should not push the discussion. That doesn’t mean giving up after the first try.
Your kids need someone to talk to. Take this opportunity to get closer to your kids and give them the guidance and love they need. You’ll be glad you did.