If you’re a dad who has felt overwhelmed the last few days about how to address the massacre in Uvalde, Texas with your kids, you’re not alone.
Tom is a dad to four young daughters and he wrote and asked, “If you could give us dads any suggestions on how we should talk to our daughters about the shooting in Texas, we’ll take any advice we can get.” Here are 7 questions dads can ask their kids to help process the Texas shooting.
7 Questions Dads Should Ask Their Kids To Help Process the Texas Shooting
I celebrate dads like Tom who are proactive in seeking to be a safe place for your daughters to process this tragedy that is out of their control and has most likely increased their anxiety.
Yet in the midst of crises, here’s a truth that prompts us to action. FYI: I’m about to talk mostly about daughters in this post because my work is with dads and daughters, but please note that most of what I will say applies to sons as well.
Did you know that when we talk out and release the heaviness we hold inside, we actually “trauma bond” with those who enter into the trenches with us? And a trauma bond is the strongest bond two people can have.
This means that you have an opportunity right now to connect and attach even more with your daughter as you invite her to talk, grieve, feel, and heal…with you.
I want to highlight that there’s no right way or easy way to have a sobering conversation about why a deranged 18-year-old shooter would commit a random act of violence that senselessly ended the lives of 19 kids and two teachers. Yet I also want to say that some conversation is better than no conversation. Your home should be the place where you as a family can wrestle through the hard topics that don’t necessarily have a precise answer.
Let me say it another way: The way you process the hard stuff matters more than explaining why the hard stuff happens. You don’t need to have all the answers, but by initiating and entering into this heavy topic with her, you give your daughter permission to process openly.
And the best gift you can give her is to stay with her through the entirety of her emotional process. This kind of response communicates that you’re in it with her for as long as it takes to express all her tears, fears, and questions. Expect her to be extra sensitive right now, often in other areas of her life, since it’s common for kids to vent their emotions through another portal rather than where the emotion or pain is actually rooted.
Dad, if you want to open up a conversation with your kids about how they’re processing the Texas shooting, I suggest spending one-on-one time with each of them individually. This will let each one know that you really care about what they’re experiencing.
Here’s a way you could say it: “Hi, I know how hard this week has been for you since hearing about the senseless shooting of innocent kids and teachers in Texas. As your dad, I’ve felt the heaviness too. And I’ve learned that when we put words to our feelings, it helps us move forward and heal because we’re connecting with those who walk with us through the hard stuff while helping us feel less alone and overwhelmed. Would you be willing to talk with me as I ask questions that invite you to share more about what you’re carrying in your heart?”
1. What has been the scariest part of hearing about the mass shooting of 19 kids and two teachers this week?
Your daughter needs to know that it’s normal for her to feel heightened fear right now. And without making light of the deaths of 21 people, let her know that these are rare occurrences and it’s highly unlikely to happen to her. She needs you to validate her fear while assuring her of your presence and availability, reminding her that she’s safe now. You could also give her one of your shirts to hold onto so she feels you near her.
2. What makes you sad as you think about the lives that were lost?
Your daughter needs to be given permission to grieve and cry—even if her tears are only on the inside—so that her pain has a release. Let her know that our tears have salt in them and salt is a healing agent. So when we cry, our hurting hearts heal. Tell her about how your heart is sad too.
3. What about this horrific tragedy makes you angry?
Be aware that internalized unexpressed anger often leads to depression. So by encouraging your daughter to give voice to her anger over wrongdoings, evil and injustice, you help to support and strengthen her mental and emotional health.
4. If you could say anything to the shooter right now, what would you say?
Let your daughter freely express to you the gambit of words and feelings inside her—in whatever way she needs to express them—because this helps to counter any potential for numbness, disconnection, or apathy.
5. If you could compassionately say anything to the families or friends of those who died, what would you say?
By asking your daughter this question, you are teaching her how to hold more than one reality simultaneously—she can tap into her anger at this injustice while also holding empathy. If your daughter is young, she could draw a picture as a gift to express love to the survivors.
6. If you could ask or tell God anything about this situation, what would it be?
Your daughter may blame God for this tragedy because He didn’t stop the shooter. She may struggle to understand how a loving God could allow bad things to happen to good people. Let her know that you don’t have these answers, but have faith to believe that God will walk through this valley of the shadow of death with them. Pray together for the families and friends who lost loved ones and ask for supernatural comfort for their grieving hearts. For younger girls, they could draw a picture of their prayer or wish.
7. What do you need from me right now to feel comforted, supported, and loved?
Your daughter may need extra hugs or she might need extra space. She may enjoy being closer to you as you share a meal or just get coffee. Others might want to work out the intensity through physical activity, such as a long walk, bike ride, or hike with you while others might value a hand-written note to let her know you treasure her.
Dad, as your daughter reflects on the lives that were lost, she will always remember that you were here in real-time…with her. I assure you that she will cherish your warmth and kindness as you listen to her, care about her hurting hurt, and hold this sacred space…with her.
So let the talking…and empathizing…begin.
A version of this post originally appeared at the blog of Dr. Michelle Watson-Canfield.