Opinion

How do I talk about 'terror days' with my first-grader?

It was shortly after 7 Tuesday morning when my husband came into our home office and whispered, “Come here. I need to show you something.”

I followed him into the kitchen, past our kids, ages 7 and 4, who were slowly getting ready for the day. He showed me his phone: The Los Angeles Unified School District had closed all campuses because of an unspecified threat.

What the hell is going on?! That was my first reaction. What are we going to tell our son? That was my second.

Fortunately, in that moment, our son, who is a first-grader at an LAUSD elementary school, was so excited by the prospect of staying home for the day that he didn’t ask any questions. He’s heard of snow days on the East Coast. I guess this is the modern-day equivalent of a snow day? A terror day? 

I texted a friend for her thoughts. What are you going to tell your son? She was thinking about saying there was a power failure at the school. I asked another friend, who is a family therapist and the calmest parent I know. Her advice: Answer questions, but tell no more than the child needs to know.

My tactic was to go about the day and handle questions as they came. I had to take my 4-year-old to a doctor’s appointment, and when the local National Public Radio affiliate started talking about the schools being shut down, I quickly changed the channel. My older son began to say, “Hey, they’re talking about my school…” but then he changed the topic. As little as he knew, he’d picked up enough to understand that something was wrong. He didn’t want to scare his younger brother.

Of course, the TV news was on — loud — in the doctor’s waiting room. Then we got an email from my younger son’s preschool. Because of the terror threat, the Los Angeles Police Department recommended that all schools — public and private — close for the day, and the preschool would comply. The Christmas show, scheduled for the night, would be postponed.

There was no avoiding it anymore.

And yet, I knew so little. Was this a real threat? A hoax? Does it matter?

My husband and I have spent the past few weeks avoiding discussions of Paris and San Bernardino in front of the kids. NPR is always on the car radio, but I’ve switched to music a lot lately. There has always been violence and mayhem on the news, yet the recent incidents have felt too close, too visceral for children.

Now, it’s even closer. 

For more opinions, follow me @kerrycavan

kerry.cavanaugh@latimes.com

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