First of all, let’s be real. It’s not just Las Vegas. There’s a hell of a lot going terribly wrong these days.
Donald Trump. A spineless Senate. Climate Change. Attacks on immigrants and, God save us, desperate refugees. The resurgence of neo-Nazis. Devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, the Caribbean.
I could write a very long list of what is going wrong.
So could you.
So, most likely, could our children.
So what do we say?
The usual advice is: Consider their age. If they are young, keep it short and re-assuring: They are safe. If they are older, the message is basically the same: Let them know they are safe. For every age, tell them you are there to answer their questions.
But what if your child says: How can you say I’m safe when there has been so much violence? Or, why couldn’t people escape this? Or, why didn’t anyone stop it? Or, what makes people do this? Or, why don’t good people know how to deal with all of this? Or Jesus, what the hell kind of world am I going into? Or, could it happen to me?
I don’t have many good answers.
That’s the truth. There are no simple answers for the horrific things that are happening today on so many fronts.
Still, I know this:
Our acts of kindness and love matter.
Our open-heartedness matters.
Our actions that show how much we care about our children and will do everything in our power to keep them safe matters.
Our example of being a force for good in the world matters.
So how how do we talk with our children about Las Vegas — or any of the recent tragedies we’ve seen — in a way that truly helps?
1. First, I believe we get real. That is, we meet them on a common ground of humility that recognizes that we are not in control of what is happening in the world. We touch within ourselves the feeling they may be having: that things out there seem frighteningly out of control.
After all, if we do not allow that as a possibility, isn’t it unlikely that our children will admit that feeling to us?
2. Second, as conventional advice suggests, we let them know they can say or ask anything. We need to signal that this does not need to be a neat conversation, and we do not need them to act as if everything is OK. If they are afraid, it’s OK to say that. If they are anxious, it’s OK to say that. If they are angry, it’s OK to say that.
And the only way they will truly get this message is if we are present in a way that allows them to authentically feel they can say anything. Maybe that means admitting that we too are afraid or anxious or angry. Maybe it means saying we are angry that this is what they are experiencing of the world — when we know that the reality is that there are so many more good people than there currently appear to be.
3. Third, we remind children of what they can count on: us and other good family members and friends. Their own good heart. And the much, much larger community of people out there who lead with kindness and love.
And we remind them that one of the best antidotes to the fear that is fueled by violence or other horrific acts in the world is to do something good ourselves. Big or small. Known or unknown. The act is what counts.
And, finally, we help them identify a way that, together, we can make a difference. Give a little money, a little time. Make their opinions known — about climate change or gun control, about equality, democracy, refugees, or any of the many issues that matter now.
So have the conversation with your children. Not a pat conversation. Not a fearful conversation. Not a conversation designed to make them believe in a world other than the one we currently live in. Have a real conversation.
Then take solace in knowing the truth, including the truth of your love for them, will serve them best in the end. Even if they do not take you up on talking in the moment.