This past week saw another horrific mass school shooting in the US, this time in Uvalde, Tx. While I live in Canada, which has a much lower rate of school shootings, the impact was still felt here. I debated whether to tell my son about it, as he has a tender soul and heart. I ultimately decided to tell him, as I wanted him to have a safe place in my arms to process it, instead of hearing about it at school with whatever rendition may have been told to him by his friends.
So, I told him, slowly, quietly, and as gently as possible. My son is 10 and in Grade 4. I left out many details that I discerned he didn’t need to know. He asked me if kids and teachers died, to which I said yes. I did not tell him how many died, as I knew it would be too much for him. He immediately cried, gentle tears of sadness for the victims and also of fear for his own life. And I held him and let his tears fall. I didn’t try to convince him that it wouldn’t happen here, or that we are so far away that it won’t happen here. Once he was finished crying, I asked him what other questions he had. He asked about the shooter, to which I told him he also died. Which was a relief for him. I also offered him Canadian facts, after he finished letting his tears out. I told him that it is much more difficult to get guns in Canada and that people who want them need to go through a background check. This was also helpful for him. He wanted to play some video games before school to get his mind off of it, so I let him. I wrote a note for him in his lunch telling him how much I loved him and that I was thinking of him, and I made sure to be physically and emotionally present for him when we walked to school. I looked him in the eyes and told him that I love him and that I’d be there after school too. I kept my promise and I was present with him.
So, this was supposed to be about what to do when our kids are afraid, but instead, I told you what I did, and believe me, I am not perfect and it did not play out as eloquently as I have written above. But please hear this, the key is that in order for me to be present for my son and hold space for all of his emotions, I first had to process my own.
In previous years, I would have likely eaten some (actually a lot of) chocolate before I told him, to avoid my own emotions and fears, then told my son, followed by it’s fine, it’ll be fine, it won’t happen here, time for school…or I would have just let him find out at school and maybe talked to him about it when he got home, without really being present for him.
This time, in order to process my feelings this is what I did. I let myself feel the fear and sorrow, I let the physical sensations of fear and sorrow pass through my body without numbing or avoiding them. For me, the fear felt like intense heat in my chest and stomach, the sorrow felt like a heavy weight on my shoulders, and hot tears running down my face. I breathed through this experience and I let myself feel without any judgment, or thoughts like “you should know better, you’re weak, you know it won’t happen here, and so on”. I prayed for the victims and their families and I prayed for an end to these senseless acts of violence. Once I was ready, in the morning, I spoke with my son. Then I allowed space for all of his thoughts and emotions to come out.
I am not a psychologist, so the way I did this may not work for your kids. What I do know is that kids sense our distress and when we aren’t able to handle it our kids become even more distressed. To help your kids regulate, first learn to regulate your own emotions without judging them, and the rest will follow. For more information on how to start the process of allowing yourself to have and process your feelings so you can then help your kids do the same, drop a comment or send me a dm on Instagram (@gillianyuanmoms), and I’ll help you get started on this journey!