Today morning, my son asked me - "Dad, am I safe in my school?" I was taken aback at the question! Is this what it has come to? What is the kind of world we are creating for our children? He was referring to the media reports about the horrible incident that happened in Peshawar, Pakistan where some deranged and depraved people did the unthinkable and killed a large number of children in a school. I was lost for a response, I really had no assurance to give him! The sad truth was the fact that the location was incidental and there was a real possibility that this could have happened anywhere, even here at home! So we sat down and I told him that as adults, we are all giving it our best shot to make life for our children fun and happy, and children should trust us and give their best shot at being happy and having fun. After all, when they grow up, they will not be as stress free as they are now.
Later on in the day, I started thinking, this really is a thing now! Parents need to talk to children about terror and abuse on a regular basis. The thought is really disturbing, but very real. So then I thought about what are the best ways that I can be there as a parent for my child when horrible things happen. And as none of the older aunties and uncles ever dealt with this, it was not a part of the parenting boot camp that the previous generation held for us when we had our child! I had to chat with all my friends and together we arrived at a checklist of sorts. I know this sounds ludicrous, but such is the demand of the times. Let us see what we put into that checklist:
1. Be open and very honest: it is better that your kids hear and discuss about horrible things from/with you. That way, you are sure of what they hear and also can make them understand the critical and important aspects of whatever has happened. The last thing that you want is your child hearing biased and contorted versions of things that are already terrible, there is a possibility that they might form wrong opinions when they get their info from the wrong sources.
2. Do not hide details to "shield" the child: when horrific things like child abuse or a terror strike happen, our immediate reaction is to "cushion" the child from the details and simplify what we say to them, but after that, they anyway get to hear it from the media or from their peers. It is painful but necessary to not hide the details of what happened (make it less gory, adjust to the child's age, but do not shy away from the facts) That way, you are actually helping the child to understand the impact of what has happened and hence contributing to their proactive thinking about how they can react if they are faced with something similar. It is similar to not preventing your child from falling down while playing, but showing them that they need to get up and get going.
3. Listen more than talking: the child is experiencing a new horrible side of life that is bound to evoke a lot of thoughts, so you listening to your child is very important. Wait for a question to answer it, understand what your child thinks and how the reaction is. For example: the question at the beginning that my son asked me, it is very evident that he and his friends have had a long and detailed discussion and this was a big concern that came out of it. I listened it out and started out by telling him that the movies lie and no one man can take on scores of people and beat them to a pulp. I told him that the bravest thing to do when something like that happens is to lie low and not do anything stupid. That might sound simple to us adults but kids tend to believe what they see on screen.
4. Assure the child that life is beautiful: the discussion should not be about making your child all gloomy and serious, reassure him/her that for every bad thing that happens, there are a hundred wonderfully good things that happen. The bad things are the exception and not the norm.
That was the checklist that we put together, if there are other things that you have noted or used, do let me know