I am horrified and heartbroken that once again, I am writing about shooting and killing at a school: a place where children are supposed to be safe to learn and grow. My initial response was feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach, and I wanted to cry out, "No, not again!"
I stopped my work and just sat, and sent out a prayer. I cannot even begin to imagine the mix of fear, horror, sadness, and disbelief that the children, parents, teachers, and members of the Newtown, CT community are experiencing.
I received a call from a person who also had just heard the news, badly shaken, and was about to walk into a school to work with children and wanted to know how to handle it. I thought I would share my thoughts, in case they are useful to you, either for talking with your own children, or just for yourself.
First, meet children where they are. Some kids will be really shaken up, while others might seem relatively untouched by it all. If your child doesn't seem particularly upset or worried, honor that. If your child is really upset, listen to their fears or concerns. Reassure them that you are there, and that you and the other adults they trust in their lives will do everything possible to keep them safe. Saying a prayer or wish for the families while lighting a candle or a chalice is a nice ritual, reflecting what we do in church with joys and sorrows.
Second, be mindful of the media blitz. Ask yourself if you need to have the radio, T.V. or internet constantly analyzing and commenting, and providing interviews and images from the scene. Watch and listen to stay informed but don't overwhelm yourself or your children with coverage.
Third, trust in routine. The best way to help children feel safe is to keep with what they know. Hold to routines and schedules. If your child needs something more, consider sharing hot cocoa or warm milk while reading a story together on the couch, or whatever you do when your child is not feeling well or is worried about something.
Fourth, whether you have children or not, stand on the side of love, not fear. Be gentle with yourself and with others—family, friends, and strangers. Hug your kids, parents, or significant others. Offer your own prayers, healing energy or loving-kindness meditation to the families in Connecticut. Light a candle. Sing "Spirit of Life" or "For the Beauty of the Earth" or whatever song or hymn gives you hope or comfort.
Remember that Dolores and I are both resources for you, and you are welcome to call, or email me at home if you or your child or youth are having a particularly difficult time. I also offer the following resources shared by Sue Philips, our Clara Barton DistrictExecutive:
- Helping children cope after a school shooting, from the National Children's Medical Center
- Video series with help answering questions from children and adolescents, from the Reston Psychological Center
- Helping children cope with trauma-related anxiety, from Mental Health America
- Strategies for talking with children about difficult news of all kinds, from PBS
- Information about coping with a traumatic event, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Trauma response resources for congregations, from the UU Trauma Response Ministry
For Dolores' installation last week, I read the following quote by Kenneth Patton;
"What is the world, if not a playground for children? What is living for, its labors, if not the season of birth and becoming? Children move from the family into their lives, having determined who they are, having measured the world, having received a face and a name. Civilization is the nurture of the child, its supportive world, or nothing."
May we work to reclaim the world as a playground for our children, and civilization for their nurture.
Amen and Blessed Be.