Talking With Children in Times of Tragedy

Local parents discuss how they talk to their kids following mass shootings

As a parent, what will you say to your child about the Dallas shootings? As we looked into how much is too much, we found three very different approaches.

Parents watched as their children graduated Friday from the Middlesex Sheriff's Office Youth Public Safety Academy. The cadets, ages 9 to 11 years old, have spent the last week getting to know police in their hometowns of Arlington, Burlington, Newton and Waltham. Luke Hazel, 12, and his brother Jack attended last year.

"My favorite part was going to see the police station." Jack Hazel said. "It makes me feel more safe."

In the wake of 5 police officers shot and killed in Dallas, Peter Koutoujian is not only the Middlesex County Sheriff but a father of three.

"I remember during the marathon bombing I truly didn't appreciate how much my children were worried for me," Koutoujian said. "They were safe at their home and I was safe with lots of other officers and chiefs of police in Watertown and yet they were worried about me. It effected them more deeply than I anticipated and had I known I would have spoken a little more with them."

Koutoujian said every officer needs to go home and talk with their children, assuring them they are safe.

But what do we as parents say to our kids and do white and black parents approach it differently?


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Local father, Frank, has 6 children, ages 9 through 26.

"I do worry about my sons. I have boys. I worry about my boys," Frank said. "I don't want to instill in my sons just because you are black that there is a certain percentage rate when you go outside the home this is what is going to happen to you. I don't want to tell them that. I want them to be able to leave their home and live like whites, blacks, Asians and everybody else."

Frank said right now, he won't give a lot of details of any of the shootings to preserve the innocence of childhood for his 9 year old.

"The police officers, they lose their lives, he said. "The lives lost due to the hands of the law. Everybody has families. They all have families."

Whitney Goodhue, a mother of ten year old triplets said she doesn't plan on talking to her children at all saying, 'They are children. They need to remain children.'

"I think I need to give my children and myself some distance for what has happened in Dallas," Goodhue said. "That doesn't mean I am going to ignore what happened but I am going to have to carefully explain to them what has occurred to ensure they still feel safe in our home and our community."

Dr. Ellen Braaten, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, says kids between 9 and 12 are particularly curious. Here are some talking points that could help:

  • It's OK to tell them it’s a complicated issue and it's tough for you too.
  • Ask what they know and answer their questions. Don't go into too much detail if they aren't curious. One way to start the conversation is asking if they had hear about what happened in Dallas.
  • Point out how so many people are coming together to offer help and support.
  • Ask what can our own family learn about coming together and how can we all learn together?
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