Doing Life Together

Waking up to the news of another mass shooting means there are families in grief, traumatized survivors and parents who are trying to make sense of this to their children and themselves. What do you say to your children when these horrific events happen?

Overall, turn off the news and limit exposure. Less exposure is better. Most of us will struggle with grief, a loss of a sense of safety, increased perceptions of threat, and challenges related to injustice.

Before you say anything, process your own emotions. I remember when 9-11 happened, I had time to process the horror before my children came home from school since it happened early in the day. This was important since my initial reaction was quite intense given my brother was blown up by a terrorist on an airplane years earlier.

Most important is to consider your child’s age. Around the age of 8, most children can understand enough to have a conversation. Younger children simply don’t have the abstracting and mental ability to process such horrific events. However, if young children see the news or hear about it, reassure them of their safety. The younger the child, the simpler your story should be. Under the age of 5 or 6, one sentence should suffice–“A bad man hurt a lot of people. But the police helped keep people safe and got the bad man.”

Elementary age children don’t need details either. They may ask lots of questions, but focus instead on the heroes of the story. You don’t want to etch negative images in their minds.

Young teens will can talk more about the feelings of fear or anxiety. They may need your help to process those feelings with them. Here is a chance to talk about God’s role in our lives and how He is present even in troubled times.

Teens may have lots of questions and need help with developing resilience to these types of events–how are they to think about evil in the world, mental illness, or antisocial behavior? Give them spiritual help to guard against anxiety and fear. And make sure you model how to be resilient in times of trouble. Pray, ask the Lord to comfort the families, send help to those who suffer and not allow fear to paralyze people from doing life. Have on-going conversations about the after shock with your teens.

In this world, there will be trouble. God promises His presence and has our days ordered and numbered. He has given us power, love and a sound mind, not fear. Walk this out in the confidence that God is in control even when it looks like He isn’t. Model for your children how to respond to violent acts. Unfortunately, this seems to be a needed skill to teach.

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