Discussing the Dallas Shooting with your Children

A few weeks ago I wrote an article addressing how to talk to your children about recent acts of violence around our country.  Today I am writing about how to talk with kids about a tragic and horrific act in their own backyard.  Until today, we Dallas-ites spoke of such acts in a much more abstract way.
We saw violence on the news happening in other cities, not ours.  We saw images of someone else’s streets, buildings, and police force.  Today it is our streets, our buildings, and our officers.  This changes things for our community in a way we are only beginning to understand.

So how do you enter into these conversations when the violence is so close to home?  When the people who were killed and injured are our own family members, neighbors, friends and local protection?  How do we begin to help them process the multitude of feelings they have?
  • Don’t avoid 
It is instinctual to want to protect our children from pain, of any kind.  In this circumstance, our thoughts of protection might mean not talking about this at all while hoping they don’t get exposed to this horrible moment in our city.  Unfortunately, that is not optional today.  They will learn of these events, so the best course of action is to face that with them.  Let them know what has happened in our city using words they commonly use.  You don’t have to give them the play by play, but be sure you are their first point of contact on last night’s events.
  • Share
Talk with them about how this is effecting you.  We struggle to be anything less than “strong” in front of our children who idolize us.  But today, they need to know that being strong means being brave enough to be open to our grief, fear, and sadness.  Let them see you mourn.  This lets them know that it is okay to do the same. By doing so, it shows them that these feelings are normal and creates comfort for children to share their emotions with you.
  • Listen
Listen to what they are saying, but more than that don’t try to change what they are saying.  Empathy and validation are far more effective ways to help your child then telling them to “feel better”  Don’t try to talk them out of their pain, but be there next to them as they feel it.
  • Reassure 
Once you have given them an account of what has happened, shared your feelings, offered empathy and validation for their feelings, the next step is to offer them hope.  Because there is hope.  Not false hope that “everything will be alright” or “nothing bad will happen in the future” but absolute truth that whatever happens we will be here to face it together.  As a family, as a community, as a church, as a city, and as a nation.  We lean on one another, support one another and care for one another.
  • Unplug
Be sure to unplug from the coverage, not just for your children’s sake but for you as well.  Take a break from the media and take time to connect with your loved ones.  This will help you in a number of ways, but it will also help your children avoid being overwhelmed by the tragedy.
Don’t be surprised by your anger today and in the coming days.  It may feel intense and complicated to process, but if you allow yourself to move through that into the arena of vulnerability you can truly begin to heal.  Through your process you can teach your children how to share their pain and work through it in a healthy way.  We will never be able understand why these horrific acts of violence happen, but we will get through it together.  Reach out to your community members, reconnect with your friends, meet your neighbors.  Together we will grow stronger.  Let an act that was meant to divide us bring us together instead.
Officer Patrick Zamrippa
Officer Brent Thompson
Officer Michael Smith
Officer Michael Krol
Officer Lorne Ahrens