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How do you talk to your kids about tragedy?

I am not a child psychologist.  I can't tell you how to talk to your kids.  But I can explain how I talk to mine and open up a dialogue.

Events like the horrific bombing in Boston and the unimaginably awful school shooting in Newtown are extremely difficult to understand and to deal with emotionally, even as adults.  So how do you explain them to children?

I found the tragedy at Newtown especially difficult... mostly because I couldn't even speak for about two days.  I blogged about how rough that was on me (not to compare at all to the people close to the tragedy- my heart simply broke for them).  But even then, when it was difficult, I had to talk to my kids about it, especially because they saw how it affected me.  My daughter came home from school that day and I was sitting on the couch crying, and I hugged her for like five minutes.  After that I tried to turn the news off, but both kids still caught bits of it.  And of course they asked what happened.

If you know me, you know that I have one very strict rule that I do not break- I don't lie to my kids.  I do try to only give them as much truth as I feel they can handle, but I don't lie.  So I told them- when Oliver asked, I told him a sick man hurt some kids, and a lot of people are really sad about it.  That was enough for him, and the only other comment he made was "are they still talking about that?" when it came up on the news the next day.

Izzy, being older, got more information and asked more questions.  I told her that a sick man went into a school and shot some kids.  There was a discussion about why- I explained that he was sick and made a horrible choice.  Then I made the point of explaining that things like this do NOT happen very often, that her Principal, teacher, and the police did everything they could to keep them safe at school, and that there aren't very many people who are that sick.

I feel like sheltering my kids from these events will actually make it harder for them to deal with them later in life.  When they are older they are able to understand more, and then to be bombarded with some huge tragic event that you kind of but not fully understand?  That can be pretty traumatic.  I think that there is a reason small children can't fully comprehend complex events- they only comprehend what they can handle. 

It makes perfect sense to me, but I'm sure that sounds crazy to some people.  Do you talk to your kids about these types of tragedies?  How do you go about it?

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