Bombs around a football stadium. Men shooting people. Eighty people dead in a theater.
“I felt tears in my eyes, mama. Other children were crying. I felt stressed.”
That’s the message my eight year old came home from school with this week after his ‘news lesson’ about the attacks last Friday in Paris.
I was unprepared. I had had no warning from school that this topic would be covered. We had kept the details away from my children. We had made that choice for a reason. What good could it possibly do to relay the details of terrorist act to an eight year old? How could we possibly explain the why to children who are eight, five and four? Why would we want to?
But suddenly our choice had been overruled. I sat and talked to him about the footage he had seen, what he had heard during the lesson, what he had taken away from it. He talked of bombs, guns, death. He saw vividly the image of a policeman holding a gun in his mind.
Later the school relayed that the children had talked about Paris in their news lesson. The focus had been on the buildings across Europe being lit up, the ‘Peace for Paris’ symbol and the minute’s silence that was held on Monday.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the message that came home. I asked my son about the Peace for Paris symbol,
“Oh yes, we talked about that too. I forgot about that.”
The bombs, the guns, the deaths. That is what stuck with my eldest. That is what whirs around the mind of my highly sensitive child.
It prompted me to talk to people in the HSK network and friends, some in England and some with children here in the Netherlands. Had their school talked to their children about the attacks in Paris?
One retorted that their Dutch primary school had said they had no intention of discussing it at all because they deem the children too young for this sort of topic.
Another relayed that her child in group 3 (aged 6 and 7) had discussed the attacks in Paris in their class.
One mother told me her children had said a prayer in assembly for the victims but that no details had been shared with the children.
Other parents had received a message stating that the attacks would be discussed with their children. Some were not pleased, but at least forewarned.
Some mothers were disturbed by the details shared with their children (and you can include me in this). Some were angered that the decision of what to tell had been taken out of their hands (again I am included in this). Some were shocked to hear that my son knew so much detail without any prior warning given to the parents that the topic would even be talked about.
A few months back I was upset, like many people were, by the images filling my Facebook timeline of refugees washing up on our shorelines. I shared the broad outline of the plight of the refugees with my children, no images, just words. Together we put a rucksack of items together for a child that would find themselves seeking asylum in the Netherlands. I knitted scarves and collated items to send to a Greek Island for those landing with no dry clothes on Greece’s beaches. There was something we could do, however small it may be in the scheme of things. There was something teachable from the misery – I could show my children that we could help, take action and help maybe just one other child in this world who had it so much tougher than I hope my children ever will.
But this feels like something else altogether. Bombs. Guns. Deaths. I’m not sure what to do with that. How can I stop my children worrying? How can I explain the randomness of the violence and terror? I don’t understand it myself. It scares me. Some days it paralyses me that the world we live in, the world I am raising my children in, is repeatedly capable of causing so much pain and hurt. It scares me that the world we live in fails to learn the lessons of the past.
I want my children to have a childhood. A childhood free of fear for as long as possible. Not just my children. Syrian children. The children in Beirut. French children. All children. Crazy me.
Bombs. Guns. Deaths.
I have learnt a big lesson this week. I can shelter my children only so far from the reality of a world that is hell bent on violence and terror. I can choose not to share the details of the horrors across the world with my children to give them a shot at a childhood free from fear, but there’s a good chance that they will hear it elsewhere. The older they get, the bigger that chance becomes.
Where’s the line between home and school? Where are our parenting boundaries?
I’ve learnt that my parenting choices are sometimes overridden. Now it’s about dealing with the fall out, about being there to answer my son’s questions. Listening when he needs to talk. Talking when he needs reassurance.
I’ll tell him about the flowers. I’ll tell him to look for the helpers. I’ll tell him there is more good than bad in our communities. That’s our focus.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. How far do you think we need to protect our children from negative global news events?