I am a Las Vegas local. In fact, I have now called Las Vegas home for almost as many years as I called Michigan home. My husband is an actual “native” to Las Vegas. These are rare. Our city is like the ultimate melting pot. One, people from all over the world make their homes here. Two, sometimes it does actually feel like we are melting in our one hundred and twenty degree temperatures.
Small Town Las Vegas
I live in a neighborhood that is very reminiscent of the Midwest, where I grew up. We know all of our neighbors…by name. There are regular neighborhood social events like block parties, backyard barbecues, and play dates. On Saturdays, we like watching all of the toddlers play t-ball at the neighborhood park. It is like the Midwest, but hotter. Much, much hotter.
You might think with all of the people who come and go from Vegas, that we do not have much of a community. It is true, we come from all over. Some of us do not stay long. Many leave and come back. (You do not have to shovel heat, after all!) However, we do have community in spades. (Pun intended). We just happen to be the biggest small town ever.
When Tragedy Strikes
Tragedy struck our “small” town of Las Vegas on Sunday night, October 1st. My husband woke me up Monday morning with the news. A gunman opened fire on concert goers and already is was known that many were killed and hundreds injured. We frantically tried to track down all of our friends and family members to make sure that they were okay.
My sister was at the Golden Knights hockey game on the night of the game and left the area only shortly before the massacre occurred. Others were not as fortunate. As we all are interconnected in our big “small” town, many lost loved ones on this fateful night and I grieve for all of these losses.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, what has struck me the most is not the story of the gunman himself. What is most amazing is the stories of amazing bravery and heroism both by the First Responders and the concert goers themselves. Many lost their lives while trying to save another. There were those who ran towards the gunfire in order to save a perfect stranger. I am in complete awe of these brave souls and it is their stories that help ease the pain of this event.
How to Talk to Your Kids about Tragedy
As I talked to my friends and family, the one thing that kept coming up was, “How do I explain this to my children?” How do we make sense of something so senseless? I do not have all of the answers to these huge questions. In fact, I am grappling with the words to explain this tragedy to both my daughter and my students. My words many not be perfect, but I have a few tips that I hope will help you with these difficult conversations.
1. Be as Honest as You Can Be
Little brains and fragile hearts cannot bear the weight of knowing every detail from these tragic events. But you can be honest in wide brush strokes. For example, my daughter, ever the perceptive toddler, asked why mommy and daddy looked so sad. I explained that “a bad thing happened and a lot of people were hurt.” The degree to which you paint your strokes is going to be in direct correlation to your child’s age and maturity.
2. Answer Questions Directly
As above, if your child asks you a question, answer it. Be as honest and direct as you can. Don’t lie, but sugar-coating is completely okay. For example, if your child asks if people died, you can say “yes”. But, you do not have to go into the specifics or show them pictures of videos. Older children may ask more questions and you will want to be as direct as possible. It is important that when these things happen, that your child knows that he or she can trust you to tell them the truth.
3. Keep it Simple
Keep your explanations simple and easy to understand. Use terms and vocabulary that your child can understand and relate to. For example, I used the word “hurt” instead of “die” with my toddler because she knows what it means to be hurt. Instead of calling this event, in particular, a “massacre”, explain that “a lot of people were hurt and killed.”
4. Acknowledge and Nurture Their Feelings
Your child may have feelings of sadness, hurt, and anger, especially if they were directly affected by the tragedy. Acknowledge these feelings and let your child know that it is okay to feel what they feel. This is a perfect opportunity for extra hugs! Your child may also act out. This is okay and a natural reaction.
Just keep those lines of communication open. One conversation is probably not going to be enough. These events take time to process. It may feel like you are all on an emotional roller coaster and that is normal, too. Let your child know that you are there and you support them, even if they are raging or throwing a temper tantrum.
5. Show Your Child How to Focus on the Positive
Instead of focusing on the horrible acts of one individual, focus on the wonderful acts of the many. Look at the photographs or visit places like the Red Cross or Blood Banks, where people are donating whatever they have or whatever they can to help another. In Las Vegas, the blood banks are filled and are booked with appointments for the next week. People waited in line for hours and hours just to donate. These acts of selflessness are the things to focus on.
6. Try a Picture Book
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Picture books are a great way to open the lines of communication or to help explain the unexplainable in a kid-friendly way. Here are some wonderful options:
The Invisible String
I have mentioned this book before and how much I love it. The Invisible String is about two kids that wake up frightened during a thunder storm. Their mom eases their fears by explaining that they do not need to be afraid because we are all connected by an invisible string. This string connects us all, even if we are separated by distance or death. Mom also explains how love is more powerful than fear or anger.
The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm
This book is so perfect for helping your child discuss and understand their emotions. In The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, a little mouse is afraid of a hurricane. Her papa tells her a story about a rhinoceros who was so angry when a storm destroyed everything he had that he swallowed the storm whole. Then, he dug himself a deep hole and buried himself until some good friends come along and help pull him out. This is perfect for discussing the devastating effects of our recent hurricanes, as well as feelings of anger and despair. Then,ending with the idea of loved ones “pulling out” the rhino and helping feel whole again.
A Terrible Thing Happened
What is so helpful in A Terrible Thing Happenedis that the “terrible thing” is never specifically named. However, it does discuss how the little raccoon saw something awful and it makes him feel yucky inside. He has trouble sleeping and his tummy hurts. But, when he talks to a trusted adult about his feelings, he begins to feel better.
The Dandelion’s Tale
In The Dandelion’s Tale, Sparrow is flying over the meadow when he sees a sad dandelion. She knows that she is not long for the world, but wants to leave behind her stories. Sparrow spends all day recording all of her stories in the dirt, but there is a storm that night and Dandelion is gone and so are her stories. However, Sparrow realizes he knows all of her stories by heart and when he finds the dandelion’s bright-faced dandelion babies, he shares the stories and then they share them and so forth until her stories live on forever. This is the perfect book for explaining the circle of life and how the stories of the loved one can live on.
Love You Forever
Love You Forever is one of those treasured children’s books that you can read a million times and still get a tear in your eye. It is about the parent’s neverending and all-encompassing love for their child. No matter how big your little one may get, your baby they will be. This story does address death, but I love it for discussing the power of love. When tragedy strikes, you want to reassure your child that they are safe and that you will always love them. This book does that as it explains how we parents sneak into our sleeping child’s room to kiss them and hold them. No matter what happens, we will “love you forever and like you for always”.
7. Do Something Kind
One of the best ways to reverse the evils of the world is to spread love and kindness. Doing something kind as a family will make everyone feel good. Here are some wonderful noble deeds:
Donate blood at your local blood bank. Check out Blood Hero to make an appointment.
Bring canned goods, bottled water, and toiletries to your local Red Cross. I volunteered for this amazing group in college and they are so organized!
The Ronald McDonald House is one of my favorite charities. I know what it is like to have a sick baby in the hospital. This organization helps families with sick children in the hospital by providing them with a place to stay and supplies like toiletries.
Bring sandwiches and waters to your the hospital or local police department/fire station. The waiting families and First Responders are often too busy to remember to eat. *You may want to call ahead to find out if this is okay or if there are any food allergies.
For the Las Vegas tragedy, there is already a trending Go Fund Me page to help the many families with travel and funeral expenses. You can click here to donate. If you want a more personal connection, these families are friends of friends whom could use some support:
To all of those who lost a loved one on October First, please know that the residents of Las Vegas have you in our hearts and will do everything we can to help.
Related Post: How to Help Your Toddler Cope with Grief
How do you talk to your kids about tragedy? Please comment and share your tips below.