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Raising Tolerant Kids in an Age of Terror

Raising Tolerant Kids in an Age of Terror

When Columbine happened, I was in college. Sitting in my apartment in between classes, I was paralyzed in front of the TV I’d just happened to flip on for some background noise. But it felt like one thing that happened somewhere else, to other people. I didn’t see that this was the start of a new way of life in the U.S., the building of a sort of constant background buzz of fear for the next “incident.”

When 9/11 happened, I was fresh out of college. I’d just started working for a global human rights organization. The solid ground I believed I walked on every day became much less stable, but it still felt like one terrible thing that happened in one moment. I watched the world change rapidly, with a front row seat to the social and political aftermath of that terrible day.

When Newtown happened, I was working from home. Much like that day in college, I was again glued to the television in shock. I reminded myself that my toddler was perfectly safe at child care, that picking him up immediately wouldn’t change anything. When he and my husband finally arrived home, I hugged them both as though somehow I could infuse them with a force field to protect them from terrible random harm.

When the Boston Marathon was bombed, I was at work a few miles away. My four-year-old was at child care next door, and baby #2 was a few months away from meeting the world. The next day, the office and child care were closed while a manhunt raged around our office park. I tried to catch clips of the news while keeping my four-year-old from hearing it. I realized I was no longer comfortable with the idea of bringing my kids to big public events like marathons or parades. I was glad that other people still would, but I would not.

I’m raising two kids in an age when it seems like nothing is safe.

Every time one of these terrible tragedies happen, I think three things: Those poor families. My heart aches for what their mothers must be feeling. There’s no way to keep my kids safe.

I haven’t talked with my first grader about what happened in Orlando. As terrifying as it is to try to parent in this climate of fear and culture of violence, I want him to go as long as possible through childhood without the knowledge that we grown-ups live with — that anywhere, at any time, a person with hate in his heart might suddenly appear and try to quickly kill as many people as possible. How do I raise him to have a generous spirit, to have love and respect for the inherent worth of all people, and to know this terrible thing?

Even still, it has seeped into our family life. We recently had to help our son understand why school officials have to respond swiftly and dramatically when they hear any child say anything about any type of gun. We had to explain to him that sometimes people do very bad things with guns and hurt or kill lots of people. That the adults at school have a very important job to keep all the kids as safe as possible all the time. I’m not sure he fully understands, and I’m not sure I want him to.

I wish I had some sage advice for you in the wake of this latest tragedy. I wish I could tell you how to talk with your child about the violence and hate we all live with. But I don’t and I can’t. I can only offer you my continued commitment to raising kind and generous children who seek peace, and to hope that that’s enough. And if you have some wisdom for me, please share it in the comments.

Otherwise, please just hold in your hearts the families of the Orlando victims.

Editor’s Note: Bright Horizons’ website – Talking to Children – provides resources for helping children cope during tragedy and in turbulent times.

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