As a parent, have you ever struggled with what to tell your kids when something tragic happens?
If you’ve ever felt like you don’t know what to say to your kids when things like school shootings, terrorist attacks or natural disasters happen, you’re not alone.
I’ve been a pastor since 2003. I’m also a dad of three children. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time ministering to children in the aftermath of tragedy.
Here are six steps that have helped me when talking to children about tragic events:
1. Limit their media exposure.
Growing up in the 80s my media exposure was limited to what was on basic cable. Today is very different. With so many more channels available on TV, the internet, and social media our world is inundated with constant coverage of world events in real-time.
One of the best ways to protect your kids is to limit their exposure. Be mindful about what you allow them to watch on TV. Set firm parental controls on all the devices in your home. Limit how much time they spend on their screens.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers several recommendations on what to allow your children to view and how much time is too much. Take a look at these guidelines and discuss with your family about what limits are appropriate to set for your children.
2. Talk to them about what they know.
Having worked with children for almost twenty years I can confidently tell you that your kids almost always know more about what’s going on than you think they do. The old saying that kids are like sponges is true. They absorb everything that’s around them, whether you think they are paying attention or not.
Depending on how old your children are it is probably a good idea to talk to them about what they have heard about the recent shootings this week. If they are three or four years old then they probably don’t know much, if anything at all. But if they have much access to the news, conversation about what’s been going on, or know a few adults in law enforcement then they may be more aware of what is happening.
As you talk to you kids, ask them questions about what they have heard. Use this time to correct any information they may have heard that is incorrect
Ask them how they feel about what they have heard. Asking them questions and listening to what they have to see will go a long way to helping them process what has happened and strengthening your relationship with them.
3. Share what is age appropriate.
If your kids are old enough (six years old or older) sharing basic facts about what happened is usually enough. If they are junior high aged or older your kids probably have some strong opinions about what has happened. Listen to what they have to say, acknowledge their feelings and opinions with statements like, “I hear what you’re saying”, or “I get why you feel that way”.
Go over the facts of what is known. Don’t share your personal opinions as facts. Depending on your children and how you feel about what has happened, it may be a good idea not to share your feelings right away. It’s OK for you to say, “I’m not really sure how I feel about all of this right now. I need some more time to think about everything. I would love to hear some of your thoughts and feelings about it right now. What you think is very important to me.”
4. Point them to the hope we have in Christ.
If you are a Christian, use this time as an opportunity to share with your children about the hope you have in Christ. Remind your kids about some of the stories in the Bible where God was with his people and how he provided for them in the midst of difficult circumstances. If appropriate, share some Bible verses that have been encouraging to you.
Your kids may ask you why God allowed this to happen. Be honest and tell them that you do not know. Don’t try to make up an answer for why God let this happen. The truth is, on this side of eternity, we simply don’t know why God allowed this to happen. I don’t believe that he caused it to happen. What I do know is that, because of human actions, we live in a fallen and broken world. God is grieved by the events of this week. He loves everyone that was involved. 2 Peter 3:9 (LEB) says, “…He does not want any to perish…” God did not want this to happen. It breaks his heart like it breaks many of ours.
Here are some verses you can read and talk about with your kids:
- Philippians 4:6
- Matthew 6:25-34
- Isaiah 41:10
- Isaiah 43:2
- Genesis 28:15
- 2 Corinthians 1:4
- Romans 12:17, 19
- Revelation 21:4
- Philippians 4:19
- John 16:33
5. Allow them to ask questions and process their feelings.
Your kids may have a lot of question, but they might not ask you right away. Give them space to think about what has happened and what you have talked about. Dr David Hawkins said, “You can’t heal what you can’t feel.”
Ask them if they have any questions. If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, say, “I don’t know the answer to that right now. Let me find out and I will get back to you.”
Check in with them periodically. They might not have any feelings right now, but those feelings may surface later. The events that have unfolded in our nation this week will gradually fade from the spotlight, but they might not fade from the heart of your child. Pay special attention over the next couple of weeks to see how they are doing.
It might be a good idea to meet as a family with someone from your church. Ask your pastor or ministry leader if they have some time for you to meet together so you can receive their guidance on how to best answer your child’s questions.
You may even want to see if your child would like to meet with your pastor or a Children’s Ministry leader from your church one-on-one to talk with them. Sometimes kids don’t always feel comfortable sharing everything with their parents (remember when you were a kid?). It doesn’t mean you’re not a good parent. It just means that your kids need another, safe adult to talk to.
If, after a month or two, your child is still struggling with what has happened you should seek out a professional counselor. Call your church and ask them if they can give you any recommendations. Click here for a website that will help you find a Christian counselor in your area.
6. Pray together as a family.
One of the best things we can do when life is uncertain or frightening is to pray. Spend time praying for the families of the victims in this week’s shootings. Pray for the families of the police officers and bystanders that were involved. Pray for the cities and communities that were effected by these events. Pray for our nation as we heal and for our leaders as they make decision about how to protect our citizens more effectively. Pray for your family and community and for God’s Spirit of peace and guidance to fill your hearts and minds.
Being a parent is no easy task. It’s made even more difficult in the midst of tragic events like the ones our country has experienced this week. You may not feel equipped to help your children deal with what is going on in our country right now. When you feel overwhelmed take a minute to pause, breathe, ask for God’s guidance, and follow these steps.
Question: What approach do you take when talking about it tragic events? You can leave a comment by clicking here.