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One Thing to Tell Our Kids When the World Is Falling Apart

Photograph by Getty Images

This past September 11 was the first one I'd ever considered talking to my 7-year-old daughter about the significance of the date. But when evening approached and she didn't seem to have caught on that the day contained more emotional weight than the one before and after it, I decided to spare her the story—it and mine—a little longer.

While I recognize you can't keep children in a bubble forever, the 9/11 narrative is so chock full of the kind of tragedy that pours cement on your heart, rendering it at least partly ineffective forever thereafter, that I'd like to try to protect the inevitable erosion of her sense of security and innocence for as least a little longer.

What I'll have a harder time keeping from her are the more recent, and seemingly nonstop, tragic events.

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Her elementary school has regular lockdown drills in the events of a shooting, although they tell the kids it's in case a bear breaks into a classroom (we live in the mountains of Colorado, so it's not an entirely implausible situation).

If she's in the room, my husband and I will turn the channel when watching a news story about war, a terrorist attack or another unspeakable tragedy. But she can read, and she also knows when a conversation stops just because she's tuned in to what's being said. It won't be long before she starts asking questions.

What do I tell her when I don't know what to think myself?

Of course no one has the answers, and if anything, lately there's been wave of intelligent, articulate adults saying they're at a total loss for words and solutions. There are plenty of prayers, pithy memes and an onslaught of finger-pointing and name-calling. But mostly there has just been endless amounts of hopelessness, including my own.

I'm dreading the moment when she asks me about what's going on at home, abroad or even in her school. Terrorism, mass murderers, lack of adequate gun control laws, the attacks on Planned Parenthood, and even the absurd ascent of Donald Trump—it's not as simple as one piece of bad news after the next; each new story seems to be the worst. What do I tell her when I don't know what to think myself? When I close my eyes to try and escape but feel as if there's still no where to go? How do I honestly tell her it's OK to close her eyes?

The only thing I can do, and plan to do, is tell her honestly that to alleviate some of my own anxiety, I try not to worry about what I can't control. We can't change what many other people will do, but what we can change is how we react to them.

We can prepare for the worst (like how to plan for what we would do in an "active shooter situation"). We can contact our elected officials. We can be kind. We can share and re-tweet the words of others on social media. We can pray. We can click "like" on front-page editorials. We can campaign and vote for those whose values and beliefs are most closely aligned with our own. We can volunteer. We can be the change we want to see in the world. We can live lives chock full of purpose.

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But whether it's the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, or one where people celebrating Christmas in their office are ambushed by a co-worker, we should try not to worry about what we can't control. When there's little that can be done to change someone else's course, choosing our own hopefulness instead of hopelessness will go a long way toward getting through each day without a prevailing sense of doom.

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