The following blog was written by Dr. Beth Robinson in the after math of the Cleveland shooting. The principles Dr. Robinson presents can also be adapted for parents who are looking for responses for their children who may be asking questions following the Oklahoma City tornado.
When kids ask you why, they are often trying to figure out if they are safe or not, so you need to be careful how you answer their questions. If your only response is you don’t know why, that may make the world a scary place for your kids. If no one knows why a shooting occurs then kids quickly interpret your response to mean a shooter could arrive in their classroom tomorrow.
When your child asks why, be honest and say, “We don’t know exactly why the shooting happened, because we don’t know the people in Connecticut.” Assure your child that there has never been a shooting like this before and probably won’t be another one for years to come.
You may also want to give your child some ideas about why a shooting like this can occur. While we have a tendency to label a shooting like this as “evil” and then try to move on, the reality is more explainable. The shooter may have had a mental health issue, an anger issue, or an issue of knowing right from wrong.
Those are the three fundamental reasons the shooter may have for his rampage. Each of these can be explained so that kids understand them. The mental health issue can be explained by telling children he could have been confused and not understood what he was doing. If anger was the motivator, you can explain that sometimes, people get TOO angry and hurt people that haven’t hurt them. Finally, you can tell kids that the shooter may not have understood what was right or wrong.
Each of these explanations is a bit simplistic for adults, but helps kids have an understanding of the situation. In addition, it helps children feel empowered that they can protect themselves and adults can protect them when there are answers to why the shooting occurred.
If the shooter was mentally ill, then doctors could have helped him not be confused. If the shooter was angry, then teachers, parents, and counselors could have helped him learn to deal with his anger. If the shooter did not know right from wrong, then teachers and parents could have taught him right from wrong.
While none of these simple answers might have prevented the shooting from occurring from an adult perspective, they probably do provide most of the reasons why the shooter killed children in a school. Giving children simple answers will help them understand the situation and feel that adults can take actions to keep them safe.
As adults, we will struggle with the randomness of the violence and disaster, but let’s not let our children live in daily fear of a random, deadly rampage.