Many parents and teachers woke up this morning fumbling for their coffee while wondering how they were going to talk to their children about a worldwide even that affects us all: Osama Bin Laden is dead.
With this event comes a mixture of feelings and strange confusion. Questions become the norm. How can we sing out: “Ding Dong the Enemy is Dead” when we continually teach our children that harming others—or rejoicing in the pain of others– is not OK? Is such joy warranted when new threats have been issued? By cheering at the death of Bin Laden, do we do the same thing that we condemned when others danced in the streets after September 11? It’s a tough situation to come to terms with when so much death and fear has been at the hands of this one man.
It’s normal for children, parents and educators, to feel confused and scared when no easy explanation is to be had. And while your children may not watch the news or read the papers, information can easily seep out through friends and other media. Whether you are ready or not, it’s important for parents and educators to be available.
Here are some things to remember:
Be accessible: While it’s important to share your own feelings and thoughts, an open ear is a true gift for your family. Your children may need you to simply “be there” to listen or sit with them. Sometimes the most powerful parenting takes place when we say nothing at all. Say;
“I am here if you have questions, you want to talk, or you just want to sit with me.”
Reassure them that the adults are focused on our safety: Use this event to talk to your children about how the adults are always taking care of the problems around us even when we don’t know it. They work hard to keep us safe. Let them know;
“you are safe. The adults are taking care of things to make sure we are all safe. That’s their job.”
Be observant: All children express concern or fear differently. Know your child. Do they lose their appetite and get quiet when they are unsure? Do they have trouble sleeping? Do they act out? Even if your child isn’t showing outward signs of concern, s/he may still need your help. Ask them;
“Do you have questions you want to ask? Are you worried about anything?”
Be honest but don’t over-share: Children don’t need to know all the gory details—this will only serve to make them more scared and confused. However, you don’t want to pretend or lie. Stick to the facts. If you don’t know- look it up or admit you don’t know. Children need to know that they can trust you to tell them the truth as is appropriate for their developmental level.
For example– With younger children, you can say things simply;
“The adults in charge of keeping our country safe kept asking this man, Bin Laden, to stop hurting and killing other people. They asked him to admit what he did was wrong and to take care of his responsibilities and follow the rules. He didn’t listen. He didn’t admit his mistakes and he kept hurting other people and killing other people. He made lots of people very scared. The adults in charge felt that we weren’t safe with him alive. They had to stop him. He can’t hurt anyone else anymore. We are all safe from him now.”
Partner with your children’s school and after school educators: Ask your children’s educators what resources are available if the children have questions or concerns during the day. Especially engage your children’s role models—whether their coach, school counselor, martial arts teacher, principal, or other mentor, and let them know that your child may need some extra comfort or counsel today.
Limit the media onslaught: The best people to talk to your children about Osama Bin Laden and what he stood for, is you. You are the trusted source. The media talks in gruesome pictures, real life footage, and rising death tolls. If you want to control how your children are receiving the information—be the one who is giving it.
Reiterate open-mindedness: President Obama said that Bin Laden did not represent the interests of Muslim and Islam. It’s important to let children know that while Bin Laden made horrible choices based on hatred and a confused understanding about what his purpose here on Earth was to be, that most people who may look like him or who live where he lived, don’t operate in the same way. Good people live everywhere, dress in all kind of different clothes, and practice all different kinds of religions. So do people who make evil decisions. You can say, for example;
“Good people who make good choices come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Bad people who make bad choices come in all shapes, sizes, and colors too. Just because this man looked like he did, doesn’t mean that other people who look like him make bad choices and have hate in their hearts.”
Allow them to express themselves in different ways: Encourage your children to draw, paint, sing, write, or even dance to get their feelings out. We need to give our children permission to relay their emotions. This won’t just help them now—but for years to come when they are faced with other tragic events they must cope with and make sense of as a child, teen or adult.
One last note– If you feel uncomfortable talking about this with your children, be sure to enlist some help from other people in your children’s trusted circle. This is an important time and many people are around who could be a sounding board and a source of comfort and information.
I welcome your questions. Wishing us all peace.
Talking to Children about Bin Laden’s Death: 8 Things Parents and Educators Must Know is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman - Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System