Last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris gave the world another unfortunate opportunity to try to figure out how to respond to tragedy. These broad scale tragedies can leave us all feeling off kilter, a bit insecure in life. Questions may arise all over the place.
How should I talk to my kids (if they hear or see things)? Is anywhere really safe anymore? What does it all mean? What can I do to feel better or more secure or more positive again? Is there even any way to really help?
Safety: Although it can seem like there is no safe place left anymore, it’s important to remember that for all intents and purposes, most places are still very safe. Statistically speaking, each of us is still perfectly safe out in public spaces and are more likely to be in a car accident within a mile of our homes than to fall victim to random violence. This is important to remember, especially if you need to talk to kids, because if you cannot feel safe you likely won’t be able to convey a message of safety to you kids in a believable way.
Kids: If your kids are young, make sure to not speak beyond what they are actually asking you to answer. If possible, keep them away from news reports and headlines as those can be very scary for kids. Mostly, your young children just need your reassurance that they are safe and so are you. They need you to be able to be calm, reliable and solid. If they’ve heard or seen the news, they may have specific questions about why someone would hurt people they don’t even know. Again, it’s important to keep responses more spare than you would with older kids.
Generally, just let kids know that some people have so much pain or upset that they may not act the way we expect them to act but most people don’t ever behave that way. With reference to Paris specifically, you can let them know that the bad people have been caught. Remind them again that you are all safe. Be alert for any indication that there are lingering fears or concerns so you can address them quickly and clearly. Give extra hugs or spend a little more time together.
If you have teens, they may want to have a more adult and deeper conversation. Use your best judgement, keeping your own teens maturity level and anxiety levels in mind. Some teens may have more philosophical or political questions, some may express more anger than fear. Validate their feelings and encourage them to keep talking to you. Let them know that most people are going to have a very wide range of feelings and theirs are ok too.
Feeling better: Just like the kids, you may have a strong need to talk about how the tragedy makes you feel. Take care that you are not over-exposing yourself to news reports, stories or photographs. Too much exposure to tragic images and information can take a toll. You may find yourself becoming numb, or stuck in a very uncomfortable emotion like anger or distress. All of those things can keep you from more effective coping. Remind yourself, like you remind the kids, that overall you are generally quite safe.
Many people find that some form of prayer or immersing themselves in positive energy will help them return to a more peaceful state. Sending those same prayers or energy toward all people affected by Paris can help them feel like they are doing something positive. Others may find that working on lovingkindness meditation can also create more peace or ease.
Helping: Other times, people may want to do something. Even if you don’t know anyone directly affected by a mass tragedy like we saw in Paris, there are often ways to make a direct impact through donations. Donating to the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders is often an effective way to help from a long distance. Social media solidarity can help those suffering far away know that the world is watching, feeling their pain and standing with them as much as possible. Although it’s more symbolic if you live in the US (as it pertains to this tragedy), donating blood can help you feel like you are doing something productive.
Meaning: Finding meaning in a terrorist attack can be incredibly challenging. What it all means for any individual, society or the world as a whole is simply too big and nuanced a topic for a quick response. However, often people feel a need to find some positive somewhere when tragedy strikes. The most obvious good thing is when people draw together to help one another. Another option is to simply look for where beauty still exists in the world, and of course, it does aplenty. Spend time noticing a beautiful sunset, or the joy in a child’s laugh, or the smell of your favorite flowers.
Focusing on what’s beautiful isn’t going to change the fact that the world is sometimes unpredictable and that incredibly painful things can (and just did) happen. Beauty can remind us, though, that life is so much more than just the bad things that happen. What you look for is what you will notice most easily. I won’t pretend the attacks on Paris were anything other than horrible tragedies. While I do all that I may feel the need to do in response, I will listen for the music and joy the very best I can. I encourage you to do so too.