Talking to Kids About Tragedy by Janet Denison
We all want to protect our children from the things they hear in the news. We want them to feel like tragedy couldn’t happen to them, because we, as parents, will protect them. The problem with assuring your children that they are safe is not the whole truth. You will do your best to keep them safe, but sometimes tragedy happens anyway.
There are some practical, but honest ways to speak to our kids about the events in the news, like the recent shootings in Dallas.
- Limit the amount of news your children are exposed to. Even very young children are able to understand what they see and hear, before they are able to process things out loud. If your child can’t talk about the bad news, it is best if they are not exposed to that news. For older toddlers and young children, they will absorb your reactions more powerfully than they will hear the words. We can’t assure our children that they are safe, when they see our tears and fears. The honest answer is that we will do our best to protect them. They can do their best to listen and obey so we can protect them, and we will do our best to be watchful and careful with their lives.
- Difficult news and difficult times can become some of our most teachable moments. You can shield your children’s eyes from an animal that has been run over in the street, or you can use that moment to talk to your kids about how important it is for them to hold your hand, or look both ways, or be careful when they ride their bicycles. You can teach them that God has given humans a higher ability to make choices and think, so we would have the ability to stay safe.
- We can’t teach our children that nothing bad will ever happen to them. That is what they want to hear, that is the assurance we want to give, but it just isn’t truth. Bad things do happen to people sometimes, because other people make wrong choices. Kids know this is true at a very young age. Our children, can be hurt by other children, who throw a toy or choose to bite, shove and hit. Our kids know that there are car accidents, sickness and pain in the world. Think about the five-year-old, sitting in church, and hearing a sermon the Sunday after 9/11 or after the Dallas shooting. We can’t teach them that bad things will never happen, but we can teach them that we are there to protect them, and so is God. We can teach them to pray and ask God to keep them safe and help them to make right choices. We can’t teach them, however, that God will keep others from making wrong choices. Sometimes, we have to trust Romans 8:28 and trust God to make bad times, better.
- We can teach our children that their prayers will make a difference. Children feel helpless during times of tragedy. Even older children struggle with knowing what to think and especially what to say. Teenagers need to talk, but might not want to sound fearful or unsure. Sometimes a teenager will pray to God about things they don’t know how to talk about with others. Help your children, regardless of age, to know that there is great power in praying for others and in praying for themselves. If they have prayed, they have done something to make it better. Then, teach them to look for ways God would use them to make things better.
- Have important conversations with your kids about issues like racism. Teach them that everyone has the ability to live an honorable life, but things improve until people do. Expose your children to news and current events, depending on their age, so that you can have those teachable moments. We are always a generation away from improving. Find ways to help your child play with and enjoy children from every race and background. Your child will be greatly blessed if they learn to appreciate and enjoy the uniqueness of every person they meet. If your child is leading a narrow, small life—broaden their horizons. We aren’t protecting our kids if they grow up in a bubble—we are simply limiting their lives to our choices and sometimes to our prejudices.
- Finally, think seriously about your own attitudes, thoughts, words and actions. Most of what our children learn and are led to believe comes from watching their parents. We can’t ignore the difficult moments and trust our children will figure things out for themselves. Our kids are watching us, and will probably grow up to think like us. We can confess our weaknesses and give them the ability to do a better job than any generation before them.
Pray for the wisdom to raise your children to be stronger and more righteous than we have been. That is the direction our culture should be growing. If God has blessed you with children, He has blessed you with possibilities and potential to change the world. Pray and do everything you can to honor God’s purpose with your parenting.