NOTE FROM CHUCK PETERS: The horrific attacks that took place in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio last week remind us that we live in a fallen and sinful world that desperately needs Jesus. Incidents like these can be traumatizing to children and can cause them to ask deep and difficult questions of their parents and at church. As leaders, we need to be prepared to help kids process events like this and cope with their feelings in a healthy way.
Bill Emeott wrote the following article a couple of years ago after another tragic incident. The wisdom that he shared then is worth sharing again now. I pray that these words of advice help you as you have an opportunity to interact with the kids in your care.
Most young kids probably aren’t even aware of the tragedies that happened last week, thankfully. In this situation, ignorance may be the best plan. I suspect they’ll hear things…and you should be ready to have meaningful conversations, but I would advise being careful about the media exposure and adult conversations that you allow your kids to be exposed to over the next few days.
When dealing with older kids, you’ll need a plan. Below are some ideas that might help you and the parents you serve as they deal with their children during this crisis.
Be Sensitive: I believe that God gives us a sense, a tug… the Holy Spirit… that leads us when we’re careful to listen. Be especially sensitive to His guidance during tragedy and crisis. Beg Him to lead you as you offer advice and comfort. He wants you to be successful. He wants you to “say the right thing.” Start with prayer.
Be Talkative: Talk with your children. Include them, when appropriate, in family discussions regarding the crisis. Find opportunities to talk to your child about the situation (around the dinner table, when “tucking” in your child for bed, in the car while driving to school). Most children are talkative by nature. Take advantage of this time to share and talk.
Be Honest: Tell the truth. Don’t deny that something bad has happened. Be honest with yourself. Recognize your own feelings. Understand that you have feelings regarding this crisis. Know how you feel and understand that your feelings play a part in shaping your child’s feelings.
Be Respectful: Ask your child how he/she feels about the crisis and be respectful of his/her feelings. Realize that their feelings are real and respect their feelings. Give your child permission to feel the feelings that they have.
Be Age-Appropriate: Each child develops at different rates. You know your child and their level of understanding. Some guidelines to follow might include the avoidance of euphemisms and complicated explanations. Answer questions asked but be careful not to overload your child with too much information. If they want to know and you’ve created an atmosphere of freedom to ask, they will!
Be Reassuring: Reassure your children that it’s going to be okay. Assure them that they are safe. Many children may begin to fear leaving your presence. Honestly assure them that their feelings are important and that you and those to whom you entrust them are considering their safety. If you’re visually frightened, your child is likely to assume your fears.
Be Hopeful: Support your child as they work through the emotions of this crisis. Expect them to be concerned but offer them the hope that we have as Christians. Explain that God is in control. He can use this crisis for His good. We may not understand His ways but we can trust His heart. Pray with your child. Teach them to seek God for their strength, especially in crisis. Allow this time to grow them as followers of Jesus.
If you are looking for additional resources, we recommend the following:
From the team at Kids Ministry 101:
Jana Magruder on talking to kids
Landry Holmes on teaching them about God’s help
Guest blogger Linda Ranson Jacobs about grief and tragedy
From other trusted Christian counselors, pediatricians, and school counselors:
American School Counselors Association
American Academy of Pediatrics Parent Site
We hope these resources will help equip you to answer questions and minister to your child in times of crisis. Allow this time to bring you closer to Him as your Deliverer and Savior. Allow God to use this time to bring you closer as a family. Use these teachable moments to demonstrate that the faith we teach is real.