Heartbreaking. Mind numbing. Senseless. Those are just a few of the words that come to mind as I think about the 20 little kids and six adults who were shot dead today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Incomprehensible. I really, truly can't wrap my own mind around the tragedy, the nation's second-deadliest school shooting.
And as I hugged my own grade schooler this afternoon when the school day was over, I wondered how I was ever going to explain this to her. We stayed away from the news today. She is blissfully unaware. But I know it's only a matter of time before she sees the headlines or hears about it from a friend.
If I can't understand it, how can she?
Then I was reminded of the immortal words of Fred Rogers, who broached the topic of tragic events in the news in his book “The Mister Rogers Parenting Book," the last book he worked on before his death in 2003. In fact, his own mother's words helped him make some sense of tragic events.
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,'" he wrote. "To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
So I'll leave you tonight with more wisdom from Mr. Rogers:
Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to give our children all the reasons for such things as war, terrorists, abuse, murders, major fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, "What do you think happened?" If the answer is "I don't know," then the simplest reply might be something like, "I'm sad about the news, and I'm worried. But I love you, and I'm here to care for you."
If we don't let children know it's okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they do feel that way. They certainly don't need to hear all the details of what's making us sad or scared, but if we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.
Angry feelings are part of being human, especially when we feel powerless. One of the most important messages we can give our children is, "It's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hurt ourselves or others." Besides giving children the right to their anger, we can help them find constructive things to do with their feelings. This way, we'll be giving them useful tools that will serve them all their life, and help them to become the worlds' future peacemakers -- the world's future "helpers."
My thoughts and prayers are with those families in Connecticut.