Sharing Scary News With Our Children

This week, my daughter’s elementary school went into “soft lockdown” after a domestic shooting nearby appeared to have a link to a child attending the school. Administration decided to err on the side of caution and implement additional security measures. The school’s front doors were locked and manned, window shades were drawn, and children were kept off the playground.

When I picked my first grader up after school, she mentioned that the janitor told them they had to keep their classroom door locked, and that they’d watched a movie instead of going outside for recess that day.

“Do you know why?” I asked her.

“Dunno,” She shrugged. “I guess maybe it’s too cold to be outside.”

A perfectly logical explanation—we live in perpetually cold, windy, recess-stealing North Dakota—but something about the incompleteness of her explanation left me feeling slightly unsettled.

It begs the question: how do we balance our desire to shield our children from scary situations with our responsibility to tell them the truth?

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Yesterday’s horrific terrorist attacks are a sobering reminder of the state of the world. Most of my peers were teenagers on 9-11—not yet grown, but no longer children—and those attacks transformed the way we viewed the world dramatically. In an instant, everything was bigger, scarier, and infinitely more dangerous than it was just moments before.

Today, we’re parents of elementary school students. I’m admittedly no psychologist, but I suspect 9-11 left my generation feeling a nagging pressure to fiercely protect the innocence we consciously lost that Tuesday in September. When I look at my seven-year-old, I see her inherent trust in the goodness of the world, and I want to preserve it for her. She doesn’t yet understand evils like ISIS, or suicide bombers, or mass murders.

At age seven, she shouldn’t.

And yet, I feel an obligation to be truthful with her. To help her understand that where there is evil, there is also good. That where there is terror, there is also justice. That where there is fear, there is also hope.

But . . . how?

In the case of my daughter’s school lockdown, I decided it was better for her to hear from me why things were operating a little outside of the norm. As simply as I could, I explained the situation. She listened with rapt attention. She asked questions and I answered as honestly as possible. I reiterated how committed the teachers, staff, and police were to keeping her and her classmates safe at school, how locking the doors and keeping them inside were just part of that right now.

After taking it all in, she frowned and gave a tight-lipped, curt nod. “Okay,” she said.


No panic. No fear. No apprehension.

Just acceptance.

I realized then this child—this generation—is growing up with a view of the world we parents can scarcely understand. Phrases like “lockdown” and “additional security” are part of her vocabulary—more alarming to her mother than they are to her.

She’s more mature than I give her credit for.

She can handle unsettling truth when it’s shared gently, with love.

I can’t shield her from everything.

. . . But I’ll never stop wishing I could.