Working Through Tragedy (UPDATE!)


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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28 Responses

  1. Thank you for this, Kazzy.Report

  2. Burt Likko says:

    What I need help with is an answer to “Why would someone do something like that to little kids?”

    I’ve no answer to that which would be satisfactory to an adult. How could I possibly hope to explain it to a child?Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Burt, here’s how I answered that question for my own kids.

      Everyone gets mad. Everyone has a bad day. If we’re lucky, we have people around us who care for us and sometimes we’re even mean to the people who love us. It’s just the way people are. It’s okay to be mad sometimes. Life can be terribly frustrating. Have you ever felt like you were trying to be good and things got so bad you couldn’t just go on being good any more? Everyone feels that way sometimes. It’s okay to be mad. What matters is what you do with those feelings.

      This for very young people from Mr RogersReport

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


      I think it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Not all questions have answers. I would avoid oversimplified talk of good and evil. Depending on the age, I might say something along the lines of, “Sometimes people make really bad choices. They might be really angry or upset or have something else that makes it hard for them to do the right thing. Instead of asking for help, they think that doing what they did will make things better. It didn’t and it doesn’t.”

      I realize that is an imperfect answer because, as you said, there is no perfect answer.Report

    • mark boggs in reply to Burt Likko says:

      No shit, Burt. I volunteer as a crossing guard at my kids’ school and I cannot fathom what would possibly send someone so off-kilter that they could possibly look at the faces that I see every afternoon and still feel compelled to shoot them.

      Is that the manifestation of that person’s pain? Or have they so detached themsleves from the reality we live in that it doesn’t register?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Discussions of insanity or evil seem so very insufficient.Report

    • BobbyC in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Fortunately my kids are young enough that I won’t have to face that question. I’m unambiguously in the “they are too young for this” category, so this should not come up unless some older kid starts talking about it at school next wk.

      I am also stumped by your question. Most bad acts, even horrible acts, make sense to me in some way. I can understand people who kill their girlfriend and themselves in a rage. People like McVeigh or the Unabomber also make sense in their way, a warped view of reality that explains their murderous acts. I understand sexual predators and even evil people like Hitler or Pol Pot or Stalin. But I do not understand this act on any level. Extreme antisocial acts are rightly unsettling to us, but this one is particularly baffling and therefore frightening.Report

  3. James Hanley says:

    Thank you, Kazzy.Report

  4. Not that you need my endorsement for this, but I concur with all of it. Well done indeed.Report

  5. zic says:

    Kazzy, Blaise, excellent.

    I would add one thing: If you’ve older children, particularly teenagers, there’s a good chance violence (or the potential of) has already brushed their lives; friends brandishing, being met with suspicion themselves, friends or friends-of-friends who are mentally unstable and exhibit violente potential, and sometimes violent-seeming confrontations with law enforcement.

    It’s really important that they be able to talk about it with you. Keep the door of talk open, and keep your cool. Don’t panic, breath deeply, and let them talk.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

      Thanks, Zic. If we’re going to move forward on curbing violence, it is because we are going to get better at managing the impulses that lead to violence. We will never eliminate violence entirely, but we can hopefully lessen it. Encouraging all children, young and old alike, to identify their feelings, to feel comfortable speaking about their feelings, and to appropriately seek help when they cannot manage their emotions themselves will go a long way towards this end.

      As Blaise said, never fault a child for their emotion; work with them to find an appropriate outlet.Report

      • zic in reply to Kazzy says:


        If we’re going to move forward on curbing violence, it is because we are going to get better at managing the impulses that lead to violence.

        Beautifully put. I said, not so eloquently, much the same of pedophiles the other day. It’s preventative social medicine, recognizing that something will happen, and attempting to bend the trend line down in a reasonable manner.

        Thank you for that.Report

  6. I hope my friend and colleague Kazzy will not mind if I also direct people to this similar and helpful article in the New York Times.Report

  7. Mary G says:

    Great post and comments, thanks.Report

  8. Miss Mary says:

    Excellent work. Thank you.Report

  9. Roger says:

    Great thoughts K.

    I especially worry about the harm of your number 5. The lasting wake of this action may be to further insulate children from the world. Over reaction seems likely.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

      Lenore Skenazy made headlines a few years back when she let her young son (I believe he was around 9 years old) ride the NY subway by himself. From there, she has started a movement called “Free Range Kids” ( that documents efforts to move us towards further insulating children and steps we can take to avoid it. I believe she goes too far at times, which is understandable given that she is trying to push a pendulum that has swung too far towards absolute fear of “stranger danger”. But her overarching message is a sound one. One of my favorite things she advocates it thus (paraphrased): Tell your kids to talk to strangers. Then they’ll have one less stranger in their life. I tend not to recommend her to parents because she can be a bit whacko on stuff, but I’m confident the thoughtful folks here can discern the positive messages and advice she offers.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yeah, Americans do do a lot of insulating of kids. A bothersome amount, actually.
        Try telling most parents that their nine year old was setting fires (safely) in the woods…
        They’d go ballistic!Report

  10. trizzlor says:

    Maybe I’m overengineering this, but how much should we talk to kids about this? Is it important to keep circling back and filling in gaps: a few days later “the person who did this is on trial”, a few weeks later “the person who did this was sent to jail”, a few months later “schools are instituting such and such a policy to prevent this”. For me, this kind of thinking helps put the whole event into some kind of context that I feel like I can at least comprehend and grapple with. But for kids, could it run the risk of forcing them to re-live the grief experience without any consolation?

    I remember hearing that some kids who watched news footage of 9/11 thought it was happening over and over again each time, is that true? Are there things we should not talk about to avoid that?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to trizzlor says:

      Great question.

      The kids will largely serve as your guide. They’ll ask questions. You’ll respond. When they stop asking questions, stop responding. I would only prompt them if it seemed they were struggling but not talking about it. Otherwise, return to and maintain normalcy. It won’t be necessary in this case (the shooter is dead), but I wouldn’t offer up constant updates such as what you mention here unless there was a specific reason. If a child was highly interested/focused on what was going to happen to the perpetrator in a meaningful way (more likely for older kids, if at all), it might be appropriate. Otherwise, I’d recommend let sleeping dogs lie. This is what I refer to when I talk about controlling the flow of information. There is a tendency to assume more information begets more understanding, which is not usually the case for young children. More information leads to more questions, which is GOOD in most cases, but not when dealing with something beyond their understanding, such as events like this.

      I was not yet working in schools in ’01, but it wouldn’t shock me to hear that was the case for 9/11. Kids, particularly young kids, have a very different understanding of place and time, truth and fiction, reality and fantasy. Young kids seeing news reports on past events can very easily interpret them as happening in real time.Report