Greektown Tragedy…How do we explain all this to our kids? 

Roo Parenting//July 23, 2018

Toronto families woke up to the news of the Danforth shooting, trying to process the tragic events and explain what it all means to their children. How do we, as parents, help our children cope with what is going on in the world when we are having difficulty making sense of it ourselves? Below are some tips and strategies on how to help our children cope and how to address these complex topics and feelings with our kids.

Encourage a Conversation

Your children might not be talking about the events that took place in Toronto. This does not mean that they are not thinking about it. They may not be bringing up the topic in fear that they will upset you, or maybe they don’t understand their own thoughts and feelings around the issues therefore they are too overwhelmed to initiate a discussion although they are preoccupied with the subject matter. It is important for parents to initiate a conversation. Providing our kids with age appropriate information that is factual helps our kids fill in the blanks, answer their questions and manage their fears. Young children can be entrenched in what is often referred to as the “magical thinking” stage, therefore they have a very strong imagination and are able to fill in the unknowns with fantasies and thoughts that can be far more frightening and disturbing than the truth. This is why it is crucial for parents to provide factual information to answer their questions. 

How to initiate a conversation:

1.     I would recommend initiating a conversation with children aged 4 and older. At age 4, children are able to better appreciate and process external events.

2.    During a quiet time with your child (during a meal, in the car while you are driving somewhere etc.) acknowledge that something happened.

Something very sad took place in Toronto last night. 

You could initiate a conversation and gauge their understanding by asking one of these questions:

Do you know what I am talking about?

How do you feel about what is happening on TV?

Are your friends talking about what happened in Toronto last night?

3.    Once your child starts to talk, it is your job to listen. Provide your full, undivided attention and listen to what they have to say. Do not judge or guide what your child is saying. As parents we are often quick to jump in and correct misguided information. Take the time to listen to what your child has heard, thinks or understands so you can accurately help fill in the blanks and add any relevant facts to help them get a more complete picture. To gain more clarity on your child’s understanding you may want to ask questions such as:

That’s interesting, can you tell me some more…?

What do you mean by…?

4.    Once your child has expressed what they know or don’t know about the situation it is important to either validate that what they know is true or to provide them with simple, factual information to clarify their misconceptions. Be very concise; you do not need to go into too much detail. Kids will get lost if they hear too much jargon and information. Keep it high level and simple. But be honest and use the actual words and language they may hear. 

Last night there was a man who had a gun and shot at people who were having dinner and enjoying a summer night. We don’t know why he did this. The man with the gun died as well as two other people. There were also some people who got hurt. There are many people who are sad and confused but the helpers in our city are trying to help us understand why this happened.  

5.    Your kids may have some difficult questions, ones that you don’t even know the answers to. It is okay to not know all the answers, sometimes this can be reassuring to kids as it highlights that everyone – adults and kids – are trying to wrap their heads around things. Some ways to address these tricky questions are:

I don’t know the answer to that, and I am not sure if anyone does, but, I do know that there are many people throughout the world whose job is to work hard to learn and understand more about that so that we can prevent something like this from happening again/so that a better solution can be found.

That is a really good question. I don’t know the answer. Let’s try to find it out together by reading/watching more coverage. Offer some guidance on where they can learn more information (i.e. Newspapers, evening news) 

Encourage Children to Share Their Feelings

Children will experience a variety of feelings. They may feel sad, scared, nervous, stressed or excited. It is important to help your child express these feelings and have these feelings validated.

To help our children express their feelings it can be beneficial for parents to share how they feel about the situation. Be a role model. Express how you feel and what you do to help with the feelings that you have. 

I feel scared about what is happened last night. I try to talk to dad about what is going on and how I feel. And I try to find out more information about what Toronto is doing to help understand what happened last night and how we can make it better.

Then point to and highlight the responses of some of the leaders in your community.

A team of police officers named the Special Investigations Unit are working together to find out what happened and why.

It can be difficult for children to express their emotions verbally. It may be helpful to provide them with non-verbal methods such as – drawing, writing, or expressing how they feel through their play.

It is important to not be quick to reassure your child’s fears and to rationalize their worries away. This can be dismissive and make your child feel like their concerns are not valid. And, it may discourage them from sharing their feelings in the future. 

Highlight the Good

It is important to illustrate for our kids that amongst tragedy there are always people helping. There are often many more good people then there are bad. Provide examples of the good things that people are doing to help those troubled by the situation. You could highlight the police and emergency responders as well as the good Samaritans who helped the injured and the families affected by the shooting. You could also highlight the City of Toronto and how we band together to support each other. Making note of a memorial that has been started is a tangible way to show our kids that the community is coming together to support each other. You could reflect on history and how in previous negative situations, protests and people coming together has helped make positive change. 

Fred Rogers was once quoted that when he was a boy and would see scary things his mother always told him to “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” This is an important message to share with our children today.

It is also valuable to point out to our children that as scary as a traumatic event like the shooting in Greektown can be, events like it are extremely rare and there are many more calm times in the world then there are times of chaos. Reassure your kids that this is still the case.

Tune Out the News Cycle

As adults we want all the up to date information that we can get about the events that are going on in the world. We may find ourselves constantly checking our phones and turning on the radio or television to keep informed. Children do not need to be bombarded with the visuals and sounds of tragedy. Taking in this information constantly can be overwhelming for them and is not beneficial. Once you are up to date, it is important to turn off the news, share the necessary facts, have a discussion with your children and resume normal activities.