Jax has been talking about “bad guys” a lot this week. It’s unnerving, as you might imagine given the Sandy Hook tragedy. The hopeful part of me considers this a coincidence. Afterall, he’s 3 and a half now, and I watch his imagination become bigger and better every day. He isn’t shielded from a whole lot by my husband or me. He watches a fair amount of television (although our tv rarely changes from the Disney Jr channel). He likes superheroes and their movies, which, as you know if you’ve ever seen one, always feature a bad guy or two. As soon as he gets scared, we turn off the movie and tell him it isn’t real. Then he asks to watch Disney Jr again. Simple as that.
I’m trying to recall whether he’s ever actually talked to me about bad guys before last Friday, and I can’t remember. He must have, right? I’m sure this is selective memory on my part. Or whatever you call that phenomenon that occurs when, for example, you’re trying to get pregnant and it seems like everyone around you is popping out a baby.
I’m still trying to not think about what happened last Friday. I’m trying to push the bad thoughts out of my brain daily—multiple times daily, like whenever I open my Facebook account or check Twitter. But then my 3-year-old starts talking about bad guys again.
I got angry when I first thought that maybe his daycare teachers mentioned something about the shooting to the kids. I mean, they’re 3 years old! Still so innocent, too young to talk to about murderers. Right? And that’s my job, when I choose to tackle it, right?
I’m struggling with the decision to talk to Jax or not about what to do if he encounters a bad guy in real life. On the one hand, the knowledge could save his life. On the other hand, have I mentioned he’s only 3? I’m so afraid to scare him at this young age. And I don’t even know what to tell him to do! Run? Hide? Pretend he’s dead (I’d probably opt for the gentler “pretend you’re asleep”)? I can’t even stomach the idea of this conversation with my baby boy. So far, all I’ve done is reinforce the message that there are always helpers around if he ever needs one (teachers, police officers, and so on). I like the Mr. Rogers quote about this that has made the social media rounds recently. One of these days, I’ll even read past the quote and learn from the rest of the article.
I know there are resources out there for parents to learn how to discuss tragedies with their kids—like the one I linked to above–and how kids should act if they occur. But I can’t face those articles just yet.
Do I have to? He’s 3. Barely a little boy. He still has the same nose he had when he was a baby. It’s like a button.
During Fire Prevention Awareness Week, he learned what to do in case of fire. And then about a month ago, I taught him how to call 9-1-1 on my cell phone in the event of an emergency, which to him means a fire (I didn’t elaborate on all the potential emergencies that could happen). That was scary and real enough. I never thought I’d be questioning whether to talk to him about hiding or playing dead if he encounters a bad guy with a gun.
Aside from teaching him about 9-1-1 and how to stop-drop-and-roll, I have no experience with this kind of thing and I’m floundering and frightened. I will do anything to keep my child safe, but I’m not willing to rob him of a single moment of his childhood until I have to. How do I know when is the right time?
I’m asking for your help. Have you talked to your 3- or 4-year-old about the incident? Have you discussed with him or her how to respond to an act of violence? I’m truly interested in your thoughts on this.