How do you explain the unexplainable to your children? My 9-year-old has had a lot of questions this week about why people do horrible things. She has heard some of the news about the shootings in Tucson, and we've had several conversations about why someone would do something so horrible. It's been my job this week to answer her questions and reassure her as much as possible.
I find this job of explaining evil in the world to be one of the most difficult jobs of a parent. How do I explain evil to her and reassure her when I don't understand it myself. I have no idea why someone would want to hurt another person. I have no idea why God allows bad things to happen to innocent people. I feel completely under-equipped for this part of my job as a mom.
But, I find that mostly what she needs is to know that she's loved, that God is in control and that her little world will remain mostly the same. Sometimes it's hard to balance how much she needs to know about the "big, bad world" with my desire to keep her world a peaceful place. Unfortunately, in this day of instant communication, it's difficult to keep the bad stuff out of our kids' circles of influence. Even the Christian radio stations were talking about the Tucson shootings this week.
And, it's not necessarily a bad thing for our kids to know that evil exists in the world as long as we're there to comfort, guide and reassure. While I would prefer that my girls not have to deal with things like this at their ages, it's important to be aware that they are probably going to hear about major events from their friends, from a snippet on the radio or TV, or even from random conversations going on around them. Refusing to discuss the subject with them once they're aware of it, will just make it more difficult for them to understand it.
So, here are my tips for helping your children wade through their feelings and thoughts when they are confronted with a national or local tragedy.
- Answer the questions that they ask as honestly and age-appropiately as possible. Don't give your kids more information than they need. They may be struggling with some aspect of the issue that may not even occur to you. By simply answering the questions that they ask, you are giving them the information they most need to process the situation without adding to their worries.
- Remind them that no matter what happens, God is in control. He knows what is happening, and He is there. Remind them of Deuteronomy 31:6, which says "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
- Remind them that most people in the world are not out to hurt others. Reassure them that you do everything you can to keep them safe.
- Don't lie to your kids and promise them that nothing bad will ever happen to them. You can't guarantee that promise, and if something difficult happens to your child or one of their friends, the blame may come back to sit on your shoulders because you promised nothing bad would happen.
- Shower your child with your love and remind them of the unending love of God.
The most important part of helping your child cope with a tragedy is to take your cues from them. Keep the door open for conversation and don't be surprised if some of the questions your child has are very different from the ones you have. Reassure and love them and help them to know that despite the circumstances, God is with them.