How Can I Talk to My Children about the Leiby Kletzky Murder? 10 Tips Parents Need to Know
A horrific story about a 8 year old boy, Leiby Kletzky, gone missing, murdered and dismembered in Brooklyn this week, has parents wondering how to talk to their children about this tragedy. As a parent myself, all I wanted to do was shut my eyes, close my doors, and hold my children tight. It is every parent’s nightmare—not just because of the loss itself—not just because of the gruesome way this young boy died—but because of the senselessness of the murder. What was the motive? Why this boy? Or perhaps more accurately, could it have just as easily been mine?
As a mother I find it so hard to write this article. My stomach flips and my teeth chatter just like yours. We want to raise happy, healthy, confident children—not ones that hide from the world and fear those within it. At the same time, these kinds of sickening stories make us want to yell; “stay home with me and never venture out alone!” Logically, we know this isn’t possible or realistic. But pure emotion—and fear– can sometimes hijack our sense of reason.
Given that the tragic murder of Leiby Kletzky is now all over the media, your children will likely hear about it in some way. It would be proactive to be prepared for questions and a discussion about everything from the facts to the meaning of it all.
So what do you need to do and know in order to talk to your children about the Kletzky murder?
(1) Be available and shut off the media: The best person to talk to your children about tragedy is you or another responsible, trusted adult. You don’t want to leave this job to the media or to your children’s peers. Media is often inappropriate for your children’s age and peers can be inaccurate and fear inducing.
(2) Keep gruesome facts to a minimum: In the same vein, keep gruesome facts to a minimum. Tell your children what you feel they need to know but don’t go into great detail. If they have specific questions about facts, answer them as best you can—without pontificating– based on the facts you have. Don’t suppose.
(3) Allow your children to talk about their feelings: Some children are emotional. Talking is a great means of expressing how they feel. As parents, we might want to cover our ears until this story fades away from the media but our children need us. Don’t stifle, even though it’s tempting to shield them, as you can make things worse. Discussing their fears and questions with a responsible adult is one of the best ways for children to deal with this tragedy in a healthy way.
(4) Look for different ways children process tragedy: While some children will talk it out with you or another trusted adult, others will get quiet. Still others will seem to have no reaction and then need to talk several hours or several days later. Some may not want to talk at all but instead may prefer to draw, sing, or build something creative. Remain open. Look out for odd behaviors such as nightmares, over-sleeping, acting out, extreme agitation, lack of eating, or over-eating as this way be your child’s way of telling you that they are having trouble coping. In addition, children with preexisting conditions (i.e. depression or other clinical disorders) and those who are closer to the situation in terms of age, location, or actual acquaintance may have a harder time dealing with this type of story so remain alert and available.
(5) Don’t panic: As parents we may want to stop life as we know it, pull in, and not allow our children out of our sight. We must come to terms with this tragedy as best we can so we can help assure our children that they are OK. Living a life in fear is no way to live. Children rely on their parents to stay grounded, calm, and in control. If you need to talk about your own fears, discuss them with another adult NOT your child.
(6) Assure your children: While the story is all over the media, such incidents are indeed rare. Assure your children that this is not a common occurrence. Make sure they understand that the adults in the community—from law enforcement, to religious leaders, to community leaders, teachers, and parents are doing whatever they can to keep the members of the community safe.
(7) Talk about safety and stranger danger when ready: You do not need to lump together a discussion about safety and stranger danger into this discussion of tragedy. This is a time to listen rather than a time to lecture. When appropriate, you can talk to your children about safe houses, safe routes, and safety procedures– what to do and what NOT to do. Programs are often available at martial arts and self-defense schools and many educators and law enforcement will come into your schools and talk to the children about safety as well.
(8) Remind children that these tragedies are NOT their fault: There is nothing this child did to deserve or bring on this gruesome murder. He was just a child. This was senseless and nobody knows the real reason it happened. This was the fault of the perpetrating adult- NOT the child.
(9) Children are resilient: Our children and teens are strong. They can bounce back from tragedy and they will not break if you talk to them about something bad that happened in our world.
(10) Honor life: In the face of such a tragedy, we often look for some way to stay positive. It’s hard. If your child wants to help or do something in honor of the child who was lost to our world, you can discuss a contribution to a meaningful charity in the name of that family or plant a tree in honor of that child.
This isn’t easy for anyone. Be sure to reach out for assistance if you need it. You do not need to do this alone and many other parents around you are likely grappling with the same fears, questions, and concerns. The answer then is not to pull inward and shut the world out, but band together with our neighbors. Doing so can make our communities stronger, safer, and closer-knit—so we all make it a priority to look out for one another.
How Parents Can Talk to Their Children about the Leiby Kletzky Murder is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System