I never know what to expect when I am speaking to kids. A few Sundays ago I went up on stage in front of the elementary age kids at our church and discovered that kids are searching for honest answers to their questions about tragic events.
The storyteller had shared the Bible story of Job, she engaged the kids to think about how we can be good friends during times of adversity. After she wrapped up the story and closed in prayer, I went up on stage to wrap up the service, but one of the kids raised her hand.
She asked, “what about people hurt by the hurricanes, can we be their friends too?”
Suddenly, every kid was engaged. The daydreaming stopped, because they wanted an answer to something that was clearly a real concern.
The truth is that kids hear the news about mass shootings, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. They read it online, they watch YouTube videos about it, and they hear their friends process it. The magazine at the grocery store checkout stand should not be the primary source that is shaping a child’s heart in response to tragedy—but if you aren’t speaking to an issue, it might be.
Kids need someone other than their friends and the media helping them process; they need a caring adult like you. So, how do we talk with kid’s about tragic events?
1. Introduce the topic, then listen
Could you imagine growing up as a kid today with access to constant and graphic details about tragic events? Growing up in this information-saturated age is an entirely different experience from when we grew up, so we cannot assume that we understand what kids are thinking or feeling.
Open up the conversation, ask, “Have you seen any videos or heard friends talk about ______.”
Listen carefully to what they say. They may say thoughts or feelings that are shocking to you, but keep listening and giving them the opportunity to share. Every kid needs to know that he or she has a safe place to go to in order to process.
Whether or not you agree with any of the opinions they express, the situation is incredibly tragic, so validate their emotions. Sit with them in the heartbreak. It’s ok to admit to kids that you are scared sometimes. It’s healthy for you to say that the situation breaks your heart as well. This is called empathy.
2. Be honest
It is tempting to share half-truths when kids ask questions about tragic events, but when we do that we risk that they stop asking us questions.
For example, if a kid has already watched videos on YouTube (whether you know it or not) about a tragic event, think how ridiculous this half-truth response would sound to them, “well, a bad guy made some people get boo boo’s”.
We do not need to be graphic. We simply need to be honest, because kids won’t receive our empathy as genuine if they don’t think we are being honest.
3. Give them hope
Redirect your kids to the eternal hope that we have in Jesus. When we believe in Jesus we don’t have to fear because we already know how the story ends: good overcomes evil, we will be freed from pain and suffering, and God is glorified.
This verse is one of my favorites to share with kids after tragic events. The Bible says, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
God responded to the pain on earth by sending Jesus to die in our place and he left us with the Holy Spirit, our helper and promise of the future.
4. Keep the conversation open
Kids may have complex questions that cannot be answered in a short conversation (you may also have some big questions in light of a tragedy), and that is ok. Don’t brush over their real and deep questions with simple answers—in fact you don't have to have all the answers. Simply commit to walking with them through it.
If kids know now that you will listen, be honest, be hopeful, and be available they are going to be much more likely to come to you during difficult seasons.
Every kid deserves a caring adult, and in light of the tragic events happening around us you can be that caring adult for a kid today—start the conversation.