I really don’t know what to say. I’m heartbroken and speechless.
Facts are still coming in, and I’m just beginning to process everything myself. What we’ve learned is that close to thirty people, including many children, were killed by a gunman this morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
I really don’t know what to say.
None of us do.
But if we’re parents, we’ve got to decide how to address a horrific event like this with our own kids. We have to find the words.
The events just took place a few hours ago, so I reserve the right to change my opinion. But here are my thoughts on a first hearing, based on some questions I’ve already been asked.
Should I talk to my kids about what happened?
Usually, I’m in favor of arming children with as much information as possible. But in this case, if you have young, even school-age, children, I’d be very careful about how much you tell them about what happened in Newtown. It can be overwhelmingly frightening to a child (or even an adult) to hear that a person has carried a gun into a kindergarten classroom and begun killing kids and their teachers. If your children haven’t heard about the shooting, I advise you not to open the door to that world. It’s terrifying.
What if my kids have already heard?
If your children hear about the shooting from friends or the news or some other source, then it becomes paramount that you talk with them about what they’ve heard. In this conversation, aim for four main goals:
Begin by asking a few questions. Find out what your child knows and how they are feeling. A good question to ask is, “How did you feel when you first heard the news?” or, “What was your first thought?” Listening is crucial here, because it will allow you to assess where your child is, emotionally, at this moment, and also because it will give you information that should guide the rest of the conversation.
Let your child lead the conversation.
Don’t give your child more information then they need or already have. They don’t need pictures drawn for them. Answer their questions, and show them the respect of taking their inquiries seriously. But address their concerns and curiosity without delivering extraneous information that will create more confusion and anxiety.
Help your child feel safe.
This is your highest priority right now. Information is important, but contextualize everything so that your child feels safe. Explain how rare the situation is, and that they have no reason to expect that it would happen at their school. Promise that you’re always watching over and protecting them. Let them know they can absolutely count on you and that you will always try to keep them safe.
Be willing to return to the subject, but only if your child needs to.
Later today, or tomorrow, or next week, your child may need to talk more about what happened. If so, talk more. But if your child has moved on and isn’t showing any signs of worrying any more about it, then let them move on. Don’t create anxiety by bringing it up again and again.
What do I do if I feel terrified myself?
I know that these types of terrible (but extremely rare) occurrences make us want to pull our children closer, and protect them more. And yes, you should hold your child close tonight and be grateful. I know I will. But don’t allow your fears and anxieties to rage so much that your child misses out on freedoms and opportunities that produce mastery and competence. And remember, too, that kids are very perceptive. Be careful not to communicate so much of your own fear that you make your own anxiety theirs.
I feel a deep, deep sadness for the people of Newtown. Tragedies occur, and far too often, we’re left without any answers. I wish I had more answers right now, both for myself and to offer you. All I know to say as we watch from afar, is that we should let this remind us of our responsibilities to our own children: to listen to them, to protect them, to cherish them, and to communicate to them—as fully as possible—how much we love them.
I’ve recently written two articles for mom.me about communicating with tweens. Here’s the one about talking with your pre-teen daughter.
She’s not a teenager yet. But she’s sure not a child anymore, at least in the way she used to be. Just last week her school notebook contained pictures of cute puppies. Now she actually talks about cute boys.
One foot in childhood, one in adolescence. Sometimes sweet and playful, sometimes moody and sensitive. She’s a tween.
How do you talk to her? Here are some suggestions.
I have a twelve-year-old son. Sometimes it’s easy to talk with him, but sometimes, it’s just not. Here’s an article I wrote about communicating with pre-teens.
Attitude. Moodiness. An emerging desire for autonomy. A growing connection to friends that appears to coincide with a decreasing connection to parents. Any of that sound familiar? If you have a son who’s a tween—a 9- to 12-year-old—then chances are at least some of that rings a bell. And most likely, one of the challenges you’re facing at the moment is how to talk to your no-longer-a-child but not-yet-a-teenager son. Here are some suggestions.
Here’s a new post on Mom.me. It begins like this:
I know what you’re thinking: “File this one under ‘You can’t be serious.’”
But I am serious.
Nobody likes a tantrum: not your little one, and certainly not you. But even though we don’t enjoy our kids’ tantrums, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for the times when they get the most upset.
For example . . .
As you can see here, I recently made a brief appearance on “Good Morning America.” I was asked to share my opinions on whether or not to use a “leash” on a small child. Only a minute fraction of what I said ended up in the actual segment, so I wrote up my thoughts in an fuller article. You can read the whole article at Mom.me (where it’s already generating a great deal of discussion). Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
You see it at the mall, at the airport, at Disneyland. A small child wears a monkey backpack, and the monkey’s tail is a tether held by the child’s parent. A leash.
Lots of people react pretty strongly against leashes for children. I even hear the practice described as “inhumane.” When I asked a friend about it, his tongue-in-cheek response was, “That’s how you get them to sit and stay.”
In my opinion, a leash is like so many other parenting tools and techniques. It’s not inherently good or bad. What matters is how it’s used: how it’s presented to the child, how and when the parent uses it, what the child’s temperament is, and why the parent is using it.
For example, I can see why a mother of young triplets might use a leash when she takes them to a crowded store. Or why the dad of an impulsive 2-year-old who has a history of bolting might feel the need to use it in airport security because he’s also attending to a 4-year-old. In fact, I’m not sure that a leash in these cases is all that different from buckling kids into a stroller to keep them contained. And, further, it might be a better alternative to what I’ve seen in parking lots, where I sometimes see a parent yanking a child’s wrist in rough ways.
In other words, I understand that in certain situations, a parent may have tried everything and eventually decided that a leash is the best way to protect her child until the child has a little more capacity for thinking and controlling impulses. Some parents are truly afraid for their child’s safety, and that fear is legitimately based on the child’s past behavior. I’ve talked to many caring parents who decided to use some form of a leash when it became a basic safety issue for their overly impulsive child who was, say, 18- to 36-months-old. And some parents feel that this provides them with a basic security that allows them to be more engaged and playful with their child.
However, all that being said, I do have three main concerns about using a restraining device like a leash.
I have a new article up at Mom.me where I talk about what to do when you have trouble letting go after you’ve had conflict with your child. It starts like this:
It was a typical morning before school, and we were on schedule. Until things began unraveling when I told my 8-year-old son he was pouring too much salt on his eggs. (We’re not talking a sprinkle or a light dusting. He could’ve cured a ham.)
For whatever reason, my criticism pushed an ugly button with my son, and he stormed out of the room. For the rest of our time before school, he unleashed an increasingly mean-spirited verbal assault that eventually escalated to his saying, “Mom, you are so mean. If I should evencall you a mom.”
Looking back now, I can see the humor in this line. But after the barrage of attacks, I had a hard time letting go of my anger toward my son. When I picked him up from school that afternoon, he was happy and had forgotten about the whole thing. Clearly, he hadn’t been ruminating on our conflict all day. He said, in a cheerful voice, “Can we go get some ice cream?” But I didn’t feel like taking him to get an ice cream. I was still hurt and mad.
Can you identify? Your child rages, maybe throws some verbal missiles your way, deliberately trying to hurt your feelings. Then he calms down. Moves on. All seems well from his point of view. But what if you’re not ready to turn the page?
When you fight with your sister or your spouse, you often end the conflict with apologies, new insight and deeper understanding, and then feel ready to move on. But most kids don’t consistently do this without prompting, so we’re frequently left to do some internal repair work on our own.
How can we move on? How can we let it go?
Here are five tips to help you turn the page.
Some of you have seen my posts about common discipline mistakes even the best parents make. Mom.me has just posted a re-working of those ideas as a gallery with pictures. It begins like this:
Because we’re always parenting our children, it takes real effort to look at our discipline strategies objectively. Good intentions can become less-than-effective habits quickly, and that can leave us operating blindly, disciplining in ways we might not if we thought much about it. Here are some parenting mistakes made by even the best-intentioned, most well-informed moms, along with practical suggestions that might come in handy the next time you find yourself in one of these situations.
Yesterday I spent a fun hour with the delightful Richard Fidler on ABC Radio in Australia.
Few experiences any of us undergo are as transformative as parenting. By definition, parenting is about transformation. One of our most important jobs as parents is to witness and influence the evolution of our children from wrinkly newborns with raw nervous systems into integrated, whole humans who know who they are and how to be in the world. And parenting obviously transforms us as well. There are smaller transformations—we learn to do most things “one-handed” while carrying a baby on our hip; we begin to eat at McDonalds; we memorize the names of dinosaurs; we learn to play video games again; we even buy a mini-van (which for some is a bigger transformation than for others). And there are huge, life-changing transformations—we adjust our priorities; we make sacrifices that cost us greatly; we learn to live with worrying and “what ifs”; we forever expand our hearts.
Along the way, we become more creative than we ever knew possible. I’m not talking about the creativity of artists, song-writers, or novelists. I’m talking about the creativity that’s required for survival for anyone caring for children. I knew I’d been forever transformed by my role as a parent when, in my attempt to get through to my non-compliant little streakers, creativity sprung forth from desperation and I made up a song with a chorus that began, “No naked butts on the furniture.” (Unfortunately, it was so catchy that one day I actually Continue Reading »
I know lots of loving parents who use time outs as their primary discipline technique. I’m not saying that time outs are completely unhelpful; more that I don’t think they’re the best alternative we have when it comes to discipline—the goal of which, remember, is to teach.
Reasons I’m Not a Fan of Time-Outs:
#1. What we know about the brain.
Because I know that brain connections are formed from repeated experiences, I don’t want my kids’ repeated experience to be isolation, which they may view as rejection, when they’ve made a mistake.
What I DO want them to repeatedly experience is doing things the right way. So, instead of a time out, I’ll often Continue Reading »