It’s been a horrible week. With news of senseless shootings and stabbings and deaths plastered all over the news, the cloud of misery hanging over our country is almost tangible.

In school, the shock has been palpable within the staffroom. We’ve sat in disgust, grasping at thoughts in an attempt to make sense of the headlines. It’s certainly left us grown-ups horrified, and I’ve been thinking about the effect this week will have on our children.

What I’ve been thinking is, should we allow children to be exposed to the hate of the world or protect them from it?  Do we run the risk of terrifying them by showing just how horrible people can be or do we trick them into thinking everything is jolly and Disneyfied. My answer hovers somewhere in between.

I think children should be made aware of the hate within this world as, unfortunately as this week has shown, there is a lot of it about. Mollycoddling them will only set them up for disappointment. However, there is also a lot of good that can be shown. We should be training these children to combat hate with kindness. We should be ensuring that they are not naïve or ignorant, that they are prepared and armed emotionally.

I’ve been teaching in year 4 this week and, as I’ve done on several occasions during those (rare) spare minutes at the end of the day, we’ve watched Newsround on the interactive whiteboard. The children love it and requested it. I was a wary of playing at first, aware that the events in Orlando may not be the most pleasant end to the day, but thinking on, I decided the children needed to hear not just about the horrific attack but also about the surge of support, respect and love that was sparked around the globe. Scenes from around the World, including Orlando and Soho, have been so powerful, I felt they should see that the majority of humans will not let hate win. The children weren’t upset or disturbed or frightened. They were sympathetic towards the victims and their families. They were shocked that another human could act this way. They were supportive.

Back in November, after the attacks in Paris, I was teaching in a school which mentioned the terrible events during prayer time. The children’s questions were answered honestly. There were no dramas from the children or fact-dodging from the teachers. In the classroom, the children constructed a memorial featuring the Eiffel tower and the peace symbol. The children weren’t forced into creating this, they did this themselves after hearing of the attacks and wanting to create a space of prayer and respect for the victims. They were showing empathy. They were just as disgusted and confused over the incident as the adults.

Last year I was in another school teaching RE. We were discussing Islam when a child raised her hand and said ‘My dad told me all Muslims are terrorists’. Wow. This is when I realised how important it is that we teach our children the honest facts. At home, they could be hearing rubbish like that comment or, just as damaging, having World events shielded from them. I gently corrected the little girl, aware this was not her view point, and a discussion followed.

These dreadful events should never happen, but when they do we should be taking the opportunity to involve children in a way that doesn’t scare them, but strengthens them. We should be developing their ability to empathise and care, to recognise hate and to connect emotionally. We should be encouraging the compassion that children are so capable of. It would be easy to shield them from the atrocities, hide the facts and pretend everything is wonderful. But what is that teaching our children? How it that helping them? In their lives, they are going to experience upset and pain. They’ll be seeing acts of senseless horror on the news. Whilst shoving that in their face and screaming ‘This is what the World’s like! This is what you have to look forward to!’ is obviously not what I’m suggesting, I do think it’s important to gently give them a peak at the reality of the World we live in. A focus need not be on the negatives, but the (for want of a better word) positives – in this case the touching displays of support for Orlando, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Love is Love speech, the wonderful work of Jo Cox.

To finish, let’s go back to that little girl with the ignorant father. ‘What is a terrorist, then?’ she asked, and I carefully explained. ‘Oh,’ she said, when I was finished, nodding in understanding. ‘I thought it was someone who travelled the world and visited lots of places’. ‘No,’ I said, unable to resist smiling. ‘That’s a tourist.’