We try to shield our little ones from violent imagery in the movies, in video games, or on the news. But sometimes your kiddo will catch an image on your screen before you have time to shut down the computer. Or in the case of a friend of mine, something happens in real life that puts violence right in front of your child's face.
While riding on the bus with her son, gun shots rang out and the bus screeched to a stop as the driver yelled for everyone to hit the ground. After it appeared no more shots were being fired, she looked out the window to see a young boy laying on the ground, bleeding, with a bullet hole through his forehead. This was not how she planned on spending the afternoon with her pre-schooler. Yet, something really horrifying unfolded in front of her child's eyes, and now she had to explain what in the world had just happened.
Luckily, there are ways to minimize the impact of violence.
1) Provide a stable home environment
For young children, it turns out that one incident like this will not forever scar them (which was my first thought). It's more problematic if children are regularly exposed to violence, which in turn will lead to insecurity, aggressiveness, and other behavioral problems. A secure child will not take one incident and spiral. So keep your child in a safe, loving, environment and you will all get through a one-time event.
2) Explain what happened, and allow your child to ask questions
If your child has a lot of questions about what just happened, don't stifle her curiosity. If she feels safe asking you, you should answer as truthfully as you can in an age-appropriate fashion. If she doesn't feel like the subject is off-limits, she'll be able to process what just happened more easily.
3) Focus on safety
No matter what happened, and what questions pop up, remember that the most important thing is to emphasize that he is safe, loved, and that something like this will not happen to him. At this young age, personal safety is the number one concern. There will be time for the drug, gang, and senseless violence talk when he's older.
Remember, that small children do not filter information the way we do, with our extensive life experiences. As long as your child's environment is otherwise secure, he should be able to move on after an explanation is offered, and any questions are answered.
Have you ever had to explain violence to your child?
Image via penguinmonkey/Flickr