In-Studio interview with Emilio Parga, Founder and Executive Director The Solace Tree:
Sarah: Emilio, we had you here the night of the Sandy Hook shooting. And that evening you provided us such tremendous advice because this is going to be a topic of discussion in homes for the next days and weeks to come. So how do you go from discussing a shooting in the hypothetical sense, oh this happened on the other side of the country, to now we have a shooting in our town?
Emilio: Well, the world in our daily lives and the lives of our children and teenagers are changing so much, and it’s changing rapidly. And so, with the Sandy Hook shooting and now it’s on our side of the country and in our community, children are dealing with so many different losses. So to help them understand we must ask, kind of, what information we got from the news, but also how can we help them by listening. And finding out what they know.
Sarah: And what have we learned about talking with our children since Sandy Hook that we can now use this week?
Emilio: Well they do have questions. They want to know. They’re curious. They see in us as adults, some adults fear from their own beliefs and losses, and haven’t been able to really resolve some of their own stuff. So it’s hard for them. But when this stuff happens even so close to home and in our backyard we need to now start to think about ‘how can we listen to the children?’ And especially at this age, they talk with their peers. So how can we also let them know, or we should let them know, that we are here to listen to them if they want to talk about it. Because they know more than we think they know, and we should never underestimate their ability to know what’s happening.
Sarah: So is it better to kind of probe your child, and kind of get them to talk to you? Or do you just sit back and wait for your child to bring it up to you?
Emilio: Well, we want to know what they know. Let’s ask at least what they know. And then from our information, and what we want to tell them, we can tell them what we think is correct from the information given on this news and from their friends, because there are rumors. And then we can kind of tell them that we are doing our very very best to keep them safe, and the schools are doing an amazing job, and everyone involved, and the community. So they don’t feel that when they leave to go back to school this week or next week, they have those fears. But just to let them know that we’re here to listen to them. And we want to support them in that way as adults.
Sarah: And provide them a safe place, and a safe physical space even for parents to listen to their kids, right?
Emilio: Yes. We need to listen to our children, and listen to them some more. They haven’t experienced this. So, this is new to them. They’ve seen it on TV. They’ve heard about it. They play video games. But now it’s in their own backyards affected their friends and their family and their community. And we need to just find out how we can help them by listening to them. Because even at this age, they are going to others: Facebook and texting and phones, and they want more information. But the parents and adults need to just know that they are here to listen to them and be supportive.
Sarah: One of the best keys I think that you’ve said, is that it is okay as a parent to be honest and say, ‘I don’t know the answer to your question. I don’t know why someone so young has to die, or has to bring a gun to school.’ And I think that was one of the key points you had brought up this afternoon.
Emilio: It’s okay not to know the answers. We don’t have to know all the answers. We’re still learning from investigations and just what’s happening in our community. And so to say we don’t know is okay. Because we’re not going to have all the answers. And we must not lie because they deserve to know the truth.