5 Great Dad-Responses to Tragedy

My heart breaks for those families in Connecticut. They’re supposed to be getting ready to celebrate Christmas, but they’re getting ready for funerals instead. It does not make sense to me. I can only pray for them.

SaveTheChildrenTieI’ve been wearing the same necktie for the past few days, and I may wear it all week. It represents the organization Save the Children, and for me it’s a reminder of what’s important. When people ask me about it, I tell them that children are our most precious gift, and we adults are called to invest ourselves in children while we can.

I know many people are looking for answers about what happened—although there are really no good answers to some of the questions. Others are moving quickly back to the routine of life, concerned more with changing the future than studying the details of the tragedy. I think we can all take this as another reminder that our time is precious, and we should make the most of every opportunity we have with those we love.

One blogger appropriately quoted a line from the movie, Shawshank Redemption: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

Here at the Center we want to help equip you as a dad by providing some ideas for positive things you can do in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. I hope some of you have some additional ideas you can post below or on our Facebook page to help other dads.

As you might suspect, with us it all starts with the fundamentals of Championship Fathering. Like many fathering situations, you can apply Loving, Coaching, and Modeling, and it will lead you to something good:

Love your kids. Kids have a lot of questions about tragic events, even if they don’t verbalize them. “What’s the world coming to?” “What should I think or do about this?” Probably most of all, “Daddy, is it gonna be okay?” Their security has been somewhat shaken.

And in truth, we cannot absolutely guarantee their safety in this world. We want our children to grow up taking some risks, enduring some hardships, and learning important truths along the way. Sadly, tragedies are also part of that equation sometimes. Still we can do a lot to restore a sense of security for our children, and give them the confidence they need to make their way in a tough and often confusing world.

So, keep loving on your kids. Give them hugs—a lot, every day! Demonstrate through your actions how much you care for them. Tell them with words, too. Say, “I love you.” And tell each of them reasons why you’re proud of him or her. More than we know, our kids thrive when they know we place high value on our lives.

Coach your kids. If there’s one thing I’ve done pretty well as a dad, it might be that I make myself available and can talk openly with my kids. They know they can approach me about anything, and they often do. Dad, be a sensitive listener for your children. Tune into what they say and what they aren’t saying. That’s the best way to uncover their concerns and fears, so you can address them in an appropriate way.

As always, monitor what your kids see, hear, and read in the media. The graphic images, commentary and speculation may fuel your children’s fears and insecurities. Continue to check in with them about the situation as the days and weeks pass.

Then, as you coach them, help them see the big picture. Although a few people carry out reckless, vicious acts, there are many more who are trying to help and heal. Point out acts of heroism and service in response to the tragedy. And show your children that justice prevails, and that decency, perseverance and hope can be seen even in terrible tragedies. (Also, look for something positive your family can do as a response to the crisis.)

Model for your kids. Is your world shaken by what happened? Or are you deeply saddened, but still the same overall? One key area of our modeling is responding calmly during crises. It isn’t that we’re inconsiderate of the suffering others may be going through, but we also aren’t paralyzed by it. We take action to help our families deal with it.

Part of that involves maintaining healthy routines. This is important. Keep up the normal activities of eating, reading, goofing around, bedtime rituals and so on. Help your child feel safe and trust again, even though we live in a world where unspeakable things sometimes happen.

Encourage a fatherless child. We talk about this a lot, but it bears repeating. We never know what today’s kids are thinking, what issues they’re dealing with, and how they might respond. When there’s no father or father figure, kids are missing a key influence. But by reaching out, we can make a difference for kids outside our families who need guidance, giving them more confidence and self-esteem, and helping them deal with problems in constructive ways.

Be a WatchDOG dad. The WATCH D.O.G.S. program was created by a group of dads in 1998 as a response to a similar elementary school tragedy. And although having dads volunteer at schools does provide extra sets of eyes and ears, the real benefits go far beyond any potential impact on security.

We’ve heard over and over that having WatchDOG dads in schools brings a calming presence to classrooms and hallways. Dad-volunteers are also able to assist the important work of educators and encourage numerous children during their time in the schools. (And WatchDOG dads will tell you they get more out of it than the kids do!)

School tragedies motivate concerned dads to take action, and WATCH D.O.G.S. provides one great way to make a positive contribution to the school environment. We’re also hearing about several schools across the country where WATCH D.O.G.S. dads showed up this morning en masse to welcome kids to school, getting a great response from other parents who dropped off their kids. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.

Dad, if you’re looking for ways to make a difference where you are, I hope these thoughts are encouraging for you. You can have a powerful influence in your community, your neighborhood, your child’s school, and especially your home.

Please help other dads. What have you discovered while talking to your children about the Connecticut tragedy? Please join the discussion below or on our Facebook page.


Carey CaseyCarey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.

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