"Mommy, why is the flag halfway down the pole?" This was the question of a child in the days following the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. A parent shared this with us as a reminder that our children are observant and this was not a topic this parent wanted to approach her child about. Nevertheless, the child initiated the conversation. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a resource about talking to children about tragedies: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Talking-To-Children-About-Tragedies-and-Other-News-Events.aspx
Here are the steps recommended to take when broaching this conversation:
- Consider the age of your child - Younger children may not be able to comprehend what they have seen or heard, but they know it's bad. Older children might ask more questions or request additional information regarding the event. No matter the age, it's good to start with asking what your child already knows. Knowing your child's developmental understanding will help guide your conversation.
- Avoid graphic details and exposure - It's best to share basic information, rather than graphic details. Repetitive graphic images and sounds can be traumatic for both children and adults.
- Be concrete in your messages - Being vague about an incident may not provide enough information and a child may get confused as to why this event is different than any other day. Being concrete in your messages to your child without sharing graphic details is the recommendation. The overt message to relay is "It's OK if this bothers you. We are here to support each other."
Even if we attempt to protect our children from such unexplainable events, it can often be for naught when a child observes the flag at half-staff.