By Lorraine Nowlin, BB&W Staff
There are some very uncomfortable truths we have to face about our society. One such truth is that hatred exists. Hatred is what led to the mass murder of 49 people at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Florida. Omar Mateen walked into the club frequented mostly by black and latino gays and lesbians. Was his motive rooted in Islamic extremism? Was it homophobia? Perhaps both? We don’t yet know the answers to those questions. We do know that he was under the influence of hatred and bigotry whatever the root cause.
Naturally as parents, we want to shield our children from the knowledge of violence that seems plague our society. Unfortunately we cannot shield them from it nor can we afford to ignore it. Any child with access to a television or the internet has heard about the Orlando shooting. Just in case you think they are only made aware about mass shootings from the media, think again. Ask your child what a lockdown drill is. Many schools across the country have implemented this type of drill in recent years. Consider the story of the Michigan mom that took a seemingly innocent photo of her preschooler standing on a toilet:
Stacey Wehrman Feeley from Traverse City, Michigan took a photo of her little girl standing on top of the toilet to send to her husband, thinking she was being mischievous. But she ‘broke down’ when her daughter explained she was in fact practicing the lockdown drill she’d been taught at preschool in the event of a gun attack.
Not only are your children preparing for the possibility of a fire but for a gunman as well. This is the new world we are living in. What exactly is the best way to talk to our children about the dangers in society? Dr. Erica Marchand, a Psychologist in Private Practice in Los Angeles, was gracious enough to offer some valuable advice for parents.
I asked her what would be the best way to approach a heavy topic such as the Orlando shooting with our children:
Let your child know you’re available to talk about it or answer their questions, and set aside some time to talk if your child wants to. Don’t force your child to talk about it before they’re ready, though. When you talk, try to be reassuring by emphasizing that these events are rare, even though they may seem common because they show up on the news so much. You might also remind your children that, while some people are very disturbed, like the Orlando shooter, the vast majority of people on the planet would not intentionally harm other people, and that many, many people have shown up to help. Let them know it’s not their responsibility to worry about it or fix the problem, but that lots of adults are working to improve things. Finally, you might take the opportunity to go over family emergency procedures with your child — what to do, whom to call, and where to go in the unlikely event there is an emergency at home, at school, or out in the community.
People of color were the primary victims in the Orlando shooting and the sole victims of Charleston Shooter, Dylan Roof. Many children of color see this and feel frightened and confused. Dr. Marchand spoke about what parents can do to alleviate those fears:
It’s understandable that children from minority groups might feel especially unsafe given recent events. Talk to them about the fact that some disturbed individuals do have bias against certain groups of people, and this is unfortunately part of their illness, but this bias doesn’t happen consistently enough that they need to worry about it. Remind them of the pride you have in your family identity, background and culture, and that no one deserves to be targeted because of their identity.
Finally, she explained that there are important lessons we can learn about bigotry and respecting differences from these tragedies?
This is definitely an opportunity to remind our children and ourselves to be mindful of our own biases, and to re-commit to demonstrating understanding and kindness toward everyone. Talk with your child about the importance of using respectful language about everyone, since biases are reinforced when we talk about groups of people in a stereotypical or unkind way. For example, if you hear your child saying “that’s gay” or using a derogatory word for a certain ethnic group, be sure to correct them. Finally, remember that our own behavior is the strongest example for our kids, so we as adults have to be mindful to speak about and treat others kindly and respectfully, and absolutely avoid stereotyping, insulting, or belittling groups of people in our own conversations (even when we think the kids aren’t listening).
Addressing the concerns our children have is a must. We simply have to remember to teach them not to live in fear.