Though the police situation in Middletown has finally been resolved, it occurred in a neighborhood just three miles from our campus and several of our students and faculty have been affected by the disruption in their community. The noise of gunshots and detonation devices as well as the loud speakers of the negotiators made last night especially hard for many families from St. Anne's as well as other area schools and workplaces. As parents and teachers, many of us are wondering how do we process this with our children and students.
Versions of that question probably have come up in all of our households, regardless of how removed we are from the situation. What should I say? What do they need to know? How can I help them live in hope and not fear? As we all wrestle with how to make sense of the tragedy, the truth is that it does not really make sense, so we have to hold onto the values that we know and trust.
Our children will always take their emotional cues from us. They need us as adults to be calm and to reassure them that they are safe and loved, and they need to see that their lives can continue in their usual routines as much as possible. Today in our Earth Week outdoor chapel service, our middle schoolers heard Chaplain Hanna offer a lovely message that we are safe, that God loves us unconditionally, and that he has called us to be good stewards of the earth and good caretakers of each other. She shared the vision that if one person can make a poor choice that negatively affects so many people, imagine the reciprocal: how one person making a great choice can positively affect the world around them. If we embrace the challenge in God's message to take care of the Earth and to take care of each other, we will be helping to change the world.
For now some of us need to allow ourselves to feel the sadness of the last 24 hours; to pray for those officers and support personnel who worked tirelessly to bring this to a resolution and for the family, friends, and colleagues of Corporal Ballard who lost his life in the line of duty. We also need to do our best as a community to show our love and support for our children, family, and friends regardless of how close or far they were to this incident.
This tragedy will affect each of our children differently. Some may become fearful. Some may not be affected. Others may not have even heard about it. What is most important is for us to listen to them, to find out what if any questions they have about it, and to ask how they feel when they think about it. If we can talk with them simply and in a matter of fact, "this is sad, or this was scary, but we are resilient" manner, they will feel most secure. And, if they are not interested in the topic, we can simply move on.
If kids are still afraid after your reassurances, psychologist, Paul Coleman* uses the acronym S.A.F.E. to help us navigate these parenting challenges.
S: Search for hidden questions or fears. Ask what else is on their mind about what happened, what their friends say about it and what their biggest worry is right now. "The goal is to not assume your child is okay because it would make you—the parent—more at ease to believe that is so," he says. "Some children may not speak up about their fears or may be unable to articulate them without a parent's willingness to ask questions."
A: Act. Keep routines going — homework, bedtime rituals and so on — because they're reassuring and distracting. "It is a good time to have them do kind things for others," says Coleman. Little things like helping an elderly neighbor, or opening a door for a stranger reminds them that there are kindnesses in this world. This reduces the sense of helplessness.
F: Feel feelings. "Let them know their feelings make sense," says Coleman. "Saying 'There is nothing to worry about,' teaches them that you may not be the person to speak to about their fears." Let them talk it out and show that you understand.
E: Ease Minds. After you're sure they've talked through their fears, you can assure them of their safety. "Reassure them that there are good people trying to help others and prevent future tragedy," says Coleman.
We want to protect the spirit of childhood. We should be mindful to limit their exposure to the news coverage available on television, tablets, and other media. At the same time we need to be models for them about how we express our feelings and fears. We also need to help them keep perspective on their own level of risk. We want them to recognize that our world is a complex place and that it, like each of us, is not perfect. We should acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, as well as reassure them that many good people are working hard to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers, law enforcement, and others.
When our youngest children gathered for outdoor chapel first thing this morning, the joy and innocence was palpable as they sang an Earth Day favorite about "All God's Critters Got a Place in the Choir" (click for a short video clip). My hope in the world continues to be sustained by the children, their caring teachers, and their loving parents. Thank you for helping our children to grow in the confidence that they can live in hope and not in fear.