How do we explain violence to children?
In the wake of the recent news coverage of violence in Paris, France I felt the need to tackle the topic of emotional resilience and trauma, in the way I am currently able. It is in fact a very sad time to be alive. We are witness to violence, bigotry and hatred through our news programs and the internet on a daily basis. It's not that violence is a new phenomenon, or something that has not existed before, but the world is growing smaller and we are able to see the unrest and instability that exists in the world, not to mention in North America alone.
From where I am sitting and digesting the world, one characteristic aspect to some of the most disturbing violence we've been witness to over the past 15- 20 years like the Columbine shootings of 1999 and subsequent public shootings that seem to be unending, is that we really don't understand from where it arises. Take for instance school shootings; we'll hear a profile of the shooter with some facts, where the guns came from and then, at least recently, a message from President Obama about how he has been calling for gun control and opponents of it are at fault. None of this, absolutely none of this, gives us understanding, insight or a path forward to preventing more of these insane breaches of humanity.
So my question, how do we explain violence to our children, is a very difficult one since we really don’t understand it ourselves as adults. It would be a start to really ask the tough questions ‘How can someone be so filled with hatred they will kill others?’ ‘What has to happen to turn an innocent baby into a person capable of murder?’ ‘How come people can call it the Word of God to kill others?’ Saying: ‘they are crazy’, ‘they are just different, not like us’, or ‘religion creates the landscape for division’ are all generally non answers, insufficient to foster understanding. People of every religion have killed others Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, and I’m willing to bet no culture could claim perfect peace and non violence.
So in the face of both a lack of understanding and widespread media coverage of mayhem what can we do for our children? An interesting online publication called Emotional Geographic offered some insights. One thing to know off the top is that while TV and news coverage may not cause violence, witnessing it through media is traumatizing. What is trauma? Trauma is experiencing or witnessing events that overwhelm our abilities to protect ourselves or others and shatter our sense of safety. Images directly connect to the emotional centres in our brains so media coverage of violence absolutely creates an emotional response of helplessness. Children are especially susceptible to images as they rely more on imagination than reason or logic.
Gretchen Schmelzer of Emotional Geographic Oct 2 2015 writes the following key points to help children (and adults) heal from trauma and foster emotional resiliency: 1) Turn off the TV - don’t reactivate the stress response or reinforce the emotions of helplessness; 2) Reassure your children you’ll do whatever you can to protect them and that there are people who help and protect; 3) Keep to routines to maintain a sense of stability; 4) Help children do something helpful like paint pictures, write letters or bring flowers to those most in need or to police or emergency responders; this prevents helplessness from setting in and is meaningful to all involved. Talk to your children about how they feel when they learn about scary things happening and consider trying these tools. It can be helpful in cases of death, car accidents, pets being injured as well as witnessing the news. For details from this article see emotionalgeographic.com/parents-corner.
Dr Erin MacKenzie ND