Why I’m Not Talking To My Kids About Sandy Hook

December 17, 2012

I did not tell my children about Sandy Hook.

I did not tell my children about Sandy Hook because, look: I don’t want to talk about Sandy Hook with my children. I don’t want to talk about Sandy Hook, at all. To anybody. Unless, that is, it’s to a gun rights advocate who is insisting that guns didn’t kill those little kids – a person did! – or maybe to one of the idiots who has said that that massacre of children had something to do with the lack of school prayer, and I’m not so much talking to them as I am yelling at them, probably incoherently, because, my god, my god, my god.

This is where talking breaks down. This is where we lose our faculty of dialogic speech. Because, what can be said about this? What can we say to each other about this? Other than, how do we make this stop?

That’s a good part of why I don’t want to talk about what happened at Sandy Hook with my kids: because, right now, there’s nothing that I can say to reassure them. It happened there; it could happen anywhere. Sandy Hook Elementary had security drills for exactly this sort of thing, just like my kids’ school does – did those parents tell their kids, it was a just a drill, it was just in case, just in case, because it’s always good to know how to be safe, but nothing like that will ever happen, I promise? That’s what I told Emilia. You don’t need to worry, sweetie. It wouldn’t happen here. Maybe Robert Parker said that to his daughter, Emilie, who is no longer here to be reassured.

There is no reassurance to be had, and that’s a big part of why I don’t want to talk about it with anyone, really; not my kids, not my husband, not my friends, not my online community. Because there’s no kernel of hope here. There’s nothing to hold back the horror and the fear and the overwhelming sadness. I don’t want my kids to be crushed by the weight of that horror and that fear and that sadness. I don’t want to be crushed by it. But how can any of us not be crushed by it? Has it not taught us – has it not forced us to see – that the world is a terrible and dangerous place full of horrors of our own making, and that those horrors can reach any of us? This is the abyss, isn’t it? When we look out our windows and what we see there is not only terrifying – but terrifying, and of our own making?

I don’t want my children to look out that window. I don’t want to explain to them what’s outside. I don’t want them to see the tears in my eyes, and hear the hopelessness in my voice.

I don’t want to talk to them about this until there is something hopeful to say. I am holding out hope (is it faint, this hope? maybe) that there will be something hopeful to say.

I hold on to the hope that what happened in Sandy Hook might become the catalyst for change. I hold on to the hope that, maybe, if we scream and cry and yell about what happened in Sandy Hook, something will change. I hold on to the hope that if we scream and cry and yell loud enough and hard enough and long enough, maybe, maybe, it will sink in. That we all want something better. That we all need something better. That we owe it to ourselves and to each other to build and preserve our communities around principles of care and consideration. That we need to talk about gun control and mental health resources and our responsibilities to each other. I know that dialogue doesn’t usually start with wailing and weeping (human beings are what they are, Aristotle said, because they make meaning together through speech, but meaning-making isn’t much served by incoherent sobbing, I don’t think.) But, maybe, by making our feelings clear – our mad, messy, inarticulate sadness and fear and rage – we will find, in that mess of feeling, the common feeling that will bring us together on this. Because we have to come together on this in order to have a real conversation about this. A conversation about making things different.

Because things need to be different. I need to be able to tell my children that things will be different.

I need to be able to tell them something. Until then, there’ll be no talking. Only hugging.


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    Jasmine December 17, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I have read lots of articles, blog posts and watched a lot of news conferences and none of them have come as close as your post on how I feel. My children are 15, 11 & 7, I have talked a little bit with the older two about what happened. But I too, am at a loss to really articulate how I feel . I couldn’t imagine how anyone associated with this tradgedy is feeling.

    But I agree, hope is good and something good has to come out of something so bad.

    Stephenie December 18, 2012 at 12:38 am

    Thank you. It is impossible to put into words how I feel, but now I know I am not the only one to feel the way I do. I have not, will not, can not talk about this with my children, because all the lockdown drills in the world could not have saved THOSE children, and I want my girls to go on in their happy, blissfully innocent way as long as humanly possible.

    Hillary December 18, 2012 at 9:37 am

    That was my plan too. My eight year old is sensitive and empathetic and I knew this was something she wasn’t ready for. But then she went to school where her teacher told the whole class because they needed to review lockdown procedures. My daughter is very connected to her teacher and this particular teacher cares a great deal for my daughter so it worked out ok. But I wish I had had more control here.

    Heather December 18, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Dr. Michael Welner spoke on The View yesterday. It is time well spent to watch the interview. It doesn’t make the whole catastrophe any easier to stomach but he does provide suggestions on how we can change.

    Benj December 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    We were planning on not talking to our daughter about it either. But then the school sent an email over the weekend saying that other kids might be talking about it in school, and that the teachers were prepared to address any questions that the kids brought up. It went on to recommend that we brief our kids on the event so that they were hearing about it from us, and not from kids in school the next day. I am not sure I agree with this approach but we took it anyway, for better or worse.

    rebecca December 18, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    I had to talk about it because I knew my son would hear of it at school. And he did. From his first grade teacher. As they practiced a lockdown drill. Part of my mind broke free from itself in the midst of this talk when I was explaining to my six year old how someone else had killed a roomful of first graders (just like him, the unspoken part). Unfathomable. The only kernel in this is that we must must must must must change how we view mental health and treatment and guns and violence. No more guns. Anything less is unacceptable.

    Lu December 18, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    I can respect that decision, my friend. I told mine because I knew their schools would address it. What I like about their district is they kept it to a minimum and went about making things as normal as possible for the children. I know my kids and my son would NOT have gone to school had he been told what happened from friends. I knew I had to reassure him he was going to be safe. I am still feeling for those 26 families. No one should ever have to deal with this mess. Ever.

    Her Bad Mother December 18, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve thought about that. I still wrestle with that. It is the variable that could yet make me change my mind.

    Jennifer December 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Beautiful, Catherine. You echo my sentiments and thoughts exactly . xo

    Maggie M. Ethridge December 18, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    It’s not hopeless, it’s not… life always has held this truth: horrible things happen and we can do nothing about it. I told my ten year old girl that she has a better chance of being struck by lightening than having anything like this happen at her school or to anyone she even knows. I told her that she knows, even as a kid, that horrible things can happen, but that mostly, to most people, they don’t. And that love is with her, I reminded her, the love of her family- our pack, I call it- is with her everywhere, that the love of myself, her father, her two brothers and little sister, is a REAL thing, that is in her cells, and is with her wherever she walks in this world. This satisfied her and while she has been very sad for the children and families, she has not been afraid. And this is a child with anxiety disorder. If you do end up having to talk to her, you will find a way. That is what we do. xo

    Jamie Moesser December 18, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    For all the not talking about it you’re doing, you sure hit the nail right on the head with the words you just wrote.

    Sommer December 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Beautifully written and I agree with you. I’m fearful I’ll have to talk with them if someone tells them about it. The school reassured me that the teachers will not be discussing it, that is up to the parents and that they’ll listen closely to the children’s conversations. I’m not sure what they’ll do if they hear children talk about it though. I asked my son if kids were talking about something happening at another school somewhere – I was vague, very, very vague. He looked at me like I had a third eye so I accepted this as a good sign. I’m still nervous that I’ll have to discuss it with him and I’m like you, unsure what I will say because I don’t have “good” news or feel very positive about the situation. What I can say is that good prevails and that there are good people out there, kind people and I’ll look for those stories, those hero’s and focus on this. Thanks for sharing and again, beautifully written.

    Parent December 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    You are my favorite blogger. I love your writing and your stance on life and raising kids. I was, however, surprised to read that you feel hopeless. Our children are the hope! Their futures and how they grow through these tragedies is the hope! One child, one company, one nation at a time. There is hope because we are a nation of good people. The good outweighs the bad, its just not reported in the media. Today, Dick’s sporting goods suspended the sale of semi-automatic guns and this is hopeful–one CEO at one company doing the right thing. There will always be evil, it is how we respond to it that is the hope.

    Her Bad Mother December 18, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    I am hopeful, cautiously. Or rather, I’m hopeful that I’ll feel hopeful. I’m waiting to really *feel* the hope before I talk about it. Make sense?

    Laura Stallard Petza December 18, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I told my kids. Not because I especially wanted to, mind you, but because I feared that they’d hear about it from someone else, and in a much more horrible way. Instead of focusing on the gruesome details, I sputtered on about gun control, and about how there are real things that our society can do to prevent these atrocities from occurring. I had to highlight the prospect of change, because to delve into the darkness I felt all weekend, to share with them the oozing break I felt from all humanity, would have been too much. It is too much. I’m sad; I’m sick; I feel broken. And the dialogue that’s followed–the stuff about the absence of prayer in school, the suggestion that, had those teachers been carrying guns, tragedy could have been averted–only makes me feel more sad, more sick, more broken.

    findingmagnolia December 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    I talked to my daughter about it. She’s five, and I didn’t want to. But we ride public transportation, and people are loud, and she hears things. We have had to talk about a lot of hard topics living in a big city the way we do. Some kids might be oblivious to the talk and even to things that can be seen, but not her. So I told her, and it was okay. To allay her fears, I simply told her that the man that did it is also gone, and so he can’t go somewhere else and do it again. She has yet to grasp that there is evil in the world that exists in the heart of more than one person at a time, and that part I simply will not tell her. I wish she didn’t have to know that part, not ever.

    Tiffany December 18, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Thank you for this perspective. I too chose to shelter my 4 children from the news of this event although while we were watching Ellen this morning my 9 year old asked what Ellen was talking about when she was dedicating the show to the victims. I told her as little as possible. If sheltering my kids is what I have power to do in this situation then that’s what I’m going to do because I have little to no control over what happens to them when they leave the house and go out into the wicked world.

    Andrea December 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Thank you!
    I am so angry that people feel the need to tell thier young children just because they might hear it from someone else. We should instead be banding together to make sure they DON”T hear about this. I don’t tell my daugther who is 8 and my son who is 4 about any other tragedy that happens in the world. They will some day be over exposed to the media and hear too much. But for now they are innocent…. and I can keep this from them if I choose. I wish other parents and the schools would have felt the same way.

    Molly Skyar December 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I feel the same way. My Mom and I talked about this exact issue this week on our blog and as a clinical psychologist she totally agreed with you – it’s best to only talk about it if the child asks.

    How can I explain it to my child if I can’t comprehend it myself?

    Jessica N December 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    I’m not talking to my kids about this tragedy either, but I will be preparing them in the event that something like this happens in our home town. Now there are gun threats all over the place, crazy kids trying to become infamous. I think it’s time we as parents stand up and start PAYING ATTENTION to our children. I’m sorry if some disagree, but I know for a fact there are warning signs.

    Lynn December 20, 2012 at 4:12 am

    Good for you!! When the Desert Storm war was going on, my youngest was around four and never even knew there was a war going on. We made sure of that. No television reports, no discussions about it, etc. etc. When he was older and studying American History he said “Oh my gosh! There was a war going on when I was a little kid and I didn’t even know it! That’s amazing, Mom. How great you didn’t burden me with something like that.” So there you go….Hold tight to your conviction on this. It’s worth the effort and I’m very happy to see so many families going this route. It’s just good parenting!

    Her Bad Mother December 20, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I didn’t say that I would never speak to my kids about it. I said that I would speak to them about when I knew what to say.

    I speak to my children about a great many difficult things. They have a terminally ill cousin; they know that he’s dying, they know that illness can strike anybody. The thing is, as heartwrenching as that is for me, I know where the nuggets of hope are, I know how to work through the narrative in a way that doesn’t terrify them, in part because I’m working through it myself. Sandy Hook, I don’t yet know how to work through. And I won’t be discussing it with them until I do.

    Natalie F December 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    The world is an ugly and dark place. Our kids will grow up, be stripped of their innocence and their eyes will be open to the disgusting tragedies on our planet everyday. It is best to keep them sheltered while they are so vulnerable. Not to the point that they become naive adults, but sheltered enough if they are too small to understand. There is nothing you can say, hugging does a better job.

    Erik Rosen December 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    This is a beautifully heartfelt post. My son is already 13, so there was no escaping this. Last year, his school was on lock-down while the police looked for a shooter in a nearby building.

    I recently wrote a post on my blog about the Newtown shooting, and I invite you to take a look at it. It’s at http://www.bloggingtonirvana.com/hello-world/

    Thank you for your continued honesty. Parenting in the modern world is NOT easy if you’re truly engaged and trying to raise good, kind, and moral people.

    jennylynn December 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Wish I could share the information that I was given in a meeting at the school I work at gave us. But, I have to keep it to myself. And help enforce the new check in policies.
    The whole thing was tragic, and I as well avoided all discussions about it. I did give a day of blog silence along with many other bloggers. My girls are cutting snow flakes to send at the request of the CT PSTA. http://www.ctpta.org/About-CT-PTA/SANDY-HOOK-FUND.html which I thought was sweet.

    Your view was refreshing!

    Jacqueline December 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    There are very few adults who believe in not telling their children about Sandy Hook. Let them be kids, they have an entire future of being adults, and dealing with so many issues on their own. Glad to see this post. Thanks.

    Aimee Giese | Greeblemonkey December 31, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I think each family needs to make this decision on their own, with no judgement, only respect for the dynamics of each group. We told Declan, 10, but tried to leave it at a very minimal discussion, where we were available for his questions – mainly because we knew the buzz would flood through his school. It worked for us.

    Diamond January 1, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    I do not think kids should know these things. They should be protected as much as possible from this sort of information. We have enough violence around us already.

    Mamamia January 3, 2013 at 10:49 am

    There’s a lot of topics out there that you could perhaps talk with your children. Try educational, friendly stories, and or stories of your life that you think can motivate them and make them grow as a better person. :) Happy New Year!

    Georgia January 6, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    I am from Scotland very close to the Scottish Dunblane school shooting my heart goes out to all the family’s involved with the Sandy Hook. What happened in both schools needs to be educational to children to help them understand and express their own feelings on what has happened around them.
    I let my 4 and 7 years children openly talk to me about the Dunblane shooting so they could understand what had happened and why.

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