Researchers suggest that children who experience emotional trauma early in life have that experience imprinted on their brain–it never goes away. I think that’s probably true for all of us who live through trauma, regardless of our age.
We know “where we were” when momentous or tragic events happen to us personally, to our immediate circle of family or friends; and even when it is a significant event in another part of the country or world.
This past Saturday morning’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg is now counted among the tragic events that we as a country, as well as individually, must recover from. As with any of the gun violence in our country, we struggle to make sense of the senseless acts of violence that have become a “regular” part of our lives. We must find ways to cope with the daily barrage of news stories as they imprint on our brains as well as our hearts.
And what about the children? How do we talk to them about what they see and hear so that they can make sense of their world? How do we help children, like my 12-year old nephew who refused to go to his Hebrew school on Sunday morning, to feel safe and secure?
Well, what I did for my nephew was send him a text. I let him know that that I understood how worried he might be and what a caring and loving boy he is; and how deeply he feels when bad things happen. I let him know that he is loved by many who work very hard to keep him safe. He sent back, “love you too, Aunt Kelly.”
According to How to talk to children about shootings: An age-by-age guide, I was on the right track with my nephew. And, I’m sure his parents and other grown-ups in his life have done the same. As with adults, children need the chance to be heard and to have their feelings acknowledged and validated. If you’re not sure how to talk to and listen to your kids in the aftermath of an incident like what happened this past weekend, ask for help. How we help them to deal with traumatic events now will help them in the future.