As a grandfather, watching stories of school shootings and other tragedies that impact kids, a variety of emotions in me are stirred including anger, fear, sadness, and confusion. Do you feel the same way? As Christians, we must know how to talk to kids about tragedies from a Biblical perspective that also meets them where they are.
If I am to be completely honest, I am brokenhearted.
Broken-hearted for the…
- Parents who have lost their children
- Grandparents who grieve over the loss of the grandchildren
- Communities torn apart by violence
- People who work in schools and must respond to tragic emergencies
I can only imagine how they cannot make sense of the traumatic experience.
In times like these, we can find ourselves at a loss for words, unclear in our understanding, and even more unclear in how to talk to our children about tragedies.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Sorrow makes us all children again.” It is at times like this we need each other, we need wisdom, and most importantly, we need God. David wrote in Psalm 34:18 that the Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves such as have a contrite spirit.
Practical Steps for Talking to Kids About Tragedies
While processing our own grief in difficult times, we are also faced with another challenge. How do we talk to kids about tragedies?
Remember, God Entrusts You to Shepherd Your Children
First and foremost, understand that as a parent you know your child better than anyone else, and God has entrusted their care to you. God wants to comfort and reassure your children through your relationship. This does not mean that others cannot speak into your children during times such as this but have confidence that God has placed them in your life for you to shepherd.
While children are different, and there is not a one size fits all age-appropriate approach to discussing tragedies, here are some guidelines that may be helpful.
Guidelines to Help You Talk to Your Kids About Tragedies
- Process your own emotions.
It is best to talk through these thoughts and feelings with those close to you in your own community of faith.
- Keep hugging your children and tell them you love them.
This is true for all ages. This helps them feel safe and comforted.
- Reassure your children that God has placed important people in their lives to keep them safe.
This is a general truth that should continually be stated directly, especially to children under the age of 10.
- Best practices suggest avoiding discussing the topic with children until they reach a certain age.
While this may vary from child to child, around eight years old is a good general benchmark. While they may hear about the tragedies from another source, friends at school, for instance, remember that they still lack the capacity to process the information.
If you are going to discuss the tragedies with a child under the age of 8, keep interaction to a few concise sentences. Ask them how they feel and validate their emotion. Assure them that there are people in their life to keep them safe. If they ask if this will happen at their school, state “probably not,” and reinforce that there are people at their school to keep them safe. If possible, shield them from seeing images of the scene.
- With late-elementary age children (tweens), begin by investigating their level of knowledge, interest, and what they are feeling.
Questions are best. What have you heard? What are your feelings? What do you think about what happened?
First, you want them talking to you!
Second, while the conversation might not produce answers, it can produce a healthy exchange regarding values, and your child’s values.
- With teenagers, be truthful, honest, and accept their opinions and feelings.
You still need to reassure them of your love. You will need to give them space to process their emotions, thoughts, and values out loud. Remember, the goal is conversation and open communication.
However, you would be wise to understand that they can see hypocrisy (especially in politics and religion), hopelessness, and struggle with the weightier issues such as “Why would God allow this to happen?” They can dismantle weak solutions and quickly assign blame.
At this age, it is best to understand you are having a conversation, and it is okay to say, “I don’t know,” and “I’m angry too.” When possible, turn the conversation to God’s Word regarding pain and suffering. Focus on how the narrative of the Bible shares stories of people who are confused, angry, sad, and hopeless. God is near to the brokenhearted, and God alone is our only source of refuge.