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Talking to Kids About Tragedy: Do’s and Don’ts for Christian Parents

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

The unthinkable happened in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday and we are still overcome with grief. This whole tragedy has hit close to home for our family in too many ways: We live less than an hour away from Sandy Hook and we have a 1st grader in a public school, not unlike the one in Newtown. It takes all of my strength to not be swallowed up by heart-breaking empathy for those parents. The state trooper conspicuously parked outside of my child’s school every day is a constant reminder.

 

The media has done a fair job of equipping parents with the language on how to talk to their children about this tragedy so I wondered if it was even necessary for me to address it here at CfP. Then I heard something so wrong, I decided it was necessary.

A medical correspondent for some big TV network said that it was appropriate for parents who are struggling with grief about this, particularly those that were directly impacted by the tragedy, to share their feelings with their children and to allow their children to console them. In my professional opinion, this is bad advice.

It led me to compile the following list of do’s and don’ts for Christian Parents.

Don’t

Don’t tell young children who have no need to know. There is no need to spread the trauma any further. Stripping innocence without cause is cruel.

Don’t grieve openly in front of them. If you have followed the above tip, your children will not know why you are grieving but will simply know that something is wrong. This can cause unnecessary and possible suppressed fears. Self control can be hard – but we owe it to our children to call upon the aid of the Holy Spirit to exercise it in these circumstances.

Don’t watch news coverage in front of young children.

Don’t talk about it in front of them. They are listening, even if you think they are not.

Don’t over-share with children who do know what happened. My older child knows in general what happened and has asked to know more details. Kids don’t always get what they want. This is a good time to exercise this philosophy.

Don’t make your teen your friend. If you need a shoulder to cry on, your teen’s is not it. You be that shoulder for her. She needs you to be strong. You don’t need to be stoic with no emotions – just make sure that your grief doesn’t tip the scale from comforter to the one being comforted.

Don’t keep bringing it up. If you are doing a good job shielding your children from the media, they are likely to move past this much more quickly than you are. Don’t assume that just because it is weighing heavily on your heart, that it is on theirs as well. Children are not mini-adults. Don’t try to cultivate empathy with trauma – their seeming lack of empathy or compassion is not an indication of self-centeredness that you need to fix. If your child has moved past it, it is likely because they have no “file folder” (schema) in which to put this information. Rejoice that this is so. There are many children who are not so lucky.

Do

Know your children. Every child is different. You may have an acutely aware child who needs to know something.  Or you may have a child who lives in their own little world who needs to know nothing. You may have a child with fears of their own who would be crippled by such knowledge. Think before you speak. You will never go wrong saying too little. But you can do great damage by saying too much.

Answer their questions. But give only the information that is necessary. Tell them you are available to talk whenever they need to.

Pray together. There is power in prayer. We do not have to grieve like those without hope. Pray with the “blessed assurance” that God is in control.

Point them to the cross. This world does not make sense. What does make sense is that God is in control, He has not forgotten us and He loves us. That love was manifest at the cross. If there is any doubt in your child’s mind (or yours) that God has forgotten us, look to the cross. His boundless love for us was hung on a tree.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9

 

Our prayers are with you Newtown.

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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