Tucson's children are integrally woven into the tremendous tragedy that happened last weekend. One of Tucson's children, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, was killed. Our community's kids are part of the grieving and healing, joining their parents at the memorials that have cropped up in front of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office and at the University Medical Center.
People bring flowers and stuffed polar bears and shiny Elmo balloons and write "get well" and sorry-this-happened-to-you messages to Giffords and other victims. Kids might not understand precise details, but they know there is pain. Many kids attended the funeral for Christina, as well as the memorial where President Obama spoke on Wednesday.
How can we explain to children the tremendous tragedy that has happened when we can't even explain to ourselves? First Lady Michelle Obama posted an open letter to parents on the White House website, encouraging parents to hug their kids and talk to them - and to listen.
Adults, and some kids, remember the shock we felt after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This situation harks back to that for many of us - that feeling of disbelief and violation.
At the time, we asked Fred Rogers, of the "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" television program, for guidance on how to talk to kids about those terrible events. Mister Rogers passed away in 2003, but his words live on. Here are a few excerpts from that 2001 interview, and we hope they help:
• "We adults must do all we can to act like adults and not to give in to the fear."
• "Whenever there was any kind of disasters, my mother would always say, 'Look for the helpers, you'll always find helpers.' I think that's one of the most positive, helpful pieces of advice I've heard."
• "It's all right to be angry, but it's not all right to hurt other people. It's a very strong message, but our children and the children of the world need to be able to grow up with that."
• "The easiest thing is to lash out; the hardest thing is to work through the anger and to come to some sort of resolution that allows you to move on in life rather than get stuck."
• "One of the worst feelings in the world is the feeling of helplessness."
• "Tell them, we're going to take care of you, and no matter what, we're in this together."
• "Parents can tell children they don't know everything, but they can say they will do everything they can to keep their children safe, and that's what children want to hear."
Arizona Daily Star