Last week there was a gun in my middle child’s school.
A real gun.
It wasn’t used.
But the FEAR about the fact that A REAL GUN was IN SCHOOL was tangible and didn’t seem decrease as I read the note from the principal trying to comfort me by telling me it wasn’t used. This note from school circulated with few details to protect the young child, but included the fact this gun did not leave the student’s backpack at any point.
Yet panic still rose from my gut.
Columbine changed our reaction to guns in schools. Since 1999, the debate about gun violence has been argued from every angle better than I can do justice here. We have seen it played out as a complicated issue without an easily implemented solution.
However, what never seems to not get a lot of press coverage is how to talk to your kids about what happens when a gun comes to their school.
How do you talk to your kids about dealing with their real life fear about guns in school?
If there was ever a moment for courage in our ordinary life, it was on this day. I was afraid and so was my son; but fear was not going to be a reason to hide away from an opportunity for a conversation.
So, with the sun setting in the sky and creating a golden light in my office, we sat across from one another and welcomed fear into the room for a chat.
My son curled up in my comfortable chair and wrapped himself in a blanket. I asked how he felt.
“It’s weird, Mom. I’m not sure why someone would do this.”
I told my son weird sounds like fear and I was afraid too. Fear was a normal reaction to have in this instance for everyone. We let fear sit with us for a little bit.
But, then I went on. Because, there are two things that are important when an event like this happens in school.
The first is to stay out of the rumor mill. Lots of people want to talk about what has happened, but very few facts are shared for the safety of the person involved. It is important not to make assumptions and not spread rumors. Facts will come directly from the school staff, I reminded my son, not from the kids in class.
I struggle with this one as a mom, especially when I am afraid of something. I want to engage with those around me and talk about whatever is going on; but rarely is speculation productive. Typically musing just fuels my fear. The earlier my kids can learn this lesson the better off they will be.
Second, the best thing to do with fear is turn it into action. In most cases, guns are brought to school as a cry for attention or help. The Sandy Hook Video circulating on social media is an interesting example of this very idea.
Whatever you think of that video, the important message to me is we all have the opportunity to be the person who notices the people in our lives who are struggling to fit in and belong. In our disconnected society, young people struggle even more to connect than ever before. Middle school has always been a tough place, but I believe it is even tougher these days.
Therefore, to be a person who reaches out and is kind is a way to actively turn fear into action, which is a productive way for my son to act on his fear. As adults, we can reach out to the young people in our lives that may need a safe person to talk to. Being an adult who is a safe to talk to in times of stress without judgement is a way for me to put my fear to action. I hope I am that for my kids some of the time, but when I am not, I encourage them to find that in a teacher or their group leader at church or someone they trust.
We ended our conversation talking about making a difference in our friend’s lives. Because we all have the ability to choose small acts of kindness. We never know when those small acts will have lasting effects. And we never know what is going on inside someone’s head. Depression is real and cannot always be seen on the outside.
My son smiled, “Ok Mom. I’ve got it.” And I knew then that I had done my job. He was no longer afraid, he had the tools he needed.
At dinner that night, all five of us talked about kids with guns and how being kind in school was the one tangible thing we could do to make this overly complicated issue better. And then we talked about bullies. Then where to get the best hamburgers. And then summer camps. And drivers education. Somewhere in our random conversation, I too stopped being afraid.
This is my kid’s world and all we can do is live it every day the best we can.
Invite fear in, but never let it drive.