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

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

When the shooting at Sandy Hook happened, the country collectively gasped. It was unthinkable that little children could be gunned down in own their school. A school.

Now it has happened again. And it breaks my heart that we need to have these conversations with our kids again.

Here are some tips on how Christian parents can talk to their kids of various ages about media-covered tragedies.

Don’t

Don’t tell very young children who have no need to know and would otherwise not encounter it. There is no need to spread the trauma any further. Stripping innocence without cause is cruel.

Don’t grieve openly in front of very young children. 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 diffuse 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. It’s important to find the support and space you need to grieve, but seek to do it privately.

Don’t watch news coverage in front of young children. The images and shock and awe that media coverage provides can be overwhelming for adults, never mind young children. They cannot “un-see” something.

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

Don’t over-share with children who do know what happened. Your school-aged kids may have a lot of questions. It’s important to give them the facts and the basics. If you don’t, their friends will fill in the gaps with what could be erroneous information. Keep the information neutral, factual, and necessary. Infuse the information with the hope and promises of God. This is not in an attempt to minimize or gloss over what happened, but to give it context.

Don’t make your teen your friend. If you need a shoulder to cry on, your teen’s is not it. It is important that you be that shoulder for her. She needs you to be strong. You don’t need to be stoic with no emotions – it’s okay to cry together. 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 young 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. Don’t try to cultivate empathy with trauma – their seeming lack of empathy or compassion is not an indication of self-centeredness. They simply do not have a place in their brains to “file” such egregious events.

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 highly sensitive child who would be crippled by knowledge of a tragedy. Think before you speak. You will never go wrong saying too little. But you can do harm by saying too much.

Answer their questions. Be open to any questions your school-aged or older kids might have as they arise. Let them know that they can come to you with any questions they may have about what they have seen or heard. 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

For more Christian parenting tips on navigating a tragedy or family trauma, click here.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed therapist who offers individual and parent counseling to individuals in Connecticut. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

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