Talking to Kids About Tragedy

We were on the way home from my grandma’s funeral when we stopped for lunch. I glanced at my phone and saw message after message on Facebook about a school shooting in Connecticut. I flipped over to a news site and stared in horror at what I read.

My brain slowly began to process the horror. Like any other parent, I could only imagine the horror of dropping my child off at school and having them never come home. I could only utter shocked prayers and hug my own children tight.

And then I began to think: What do I say to my kids? What do I say?

How do we begin to explain the unexplainable, the unconscionable, the unbelievable? How do I tell my children that kids just like them, walked into a school just like theirs, in a community much like ours and they didn’t walk out again? How do I reassure them that it’s OK for them to go to school on Monday morning? How do I make them feel safe without lying to them? How do I answer their questions about how a good God could allow this to happen when I don’t understand it myself?

I’m not a crisis counselor. I’m not a psychologist. The only thing I know about child-rearing is what I’ve learned in the past 11 years. And I’m not sure that’s enough.

There’s no formula for explaining something like this to your kids. There’s no “right” answer. All I can do in this space is tell you what I’m going to do with my kids. Maybe it will help you.

Pray. Pray for your kids. Pray for wisdom to know what to say. Most of all pray for those families who have gifts under the Christmas tree that will never be opened. Pray for those families who went to the school to pick up their kid to find they would never come home again. Pray, pray, pray.

Be honest. No matter what, don’t lie to your kids about what happen. Don’t act like it’s not a big deal. If they’re old enough to understand what happened, they’re old enough to know if you lie. When our kids come to us in a crisis, if we give them honest answers, even if that answer is “I don’t know,” we reassure them that we are trustworthy.

Be a filter. As tempting as it is to have the constant coverage on the TV, don’t let your kids be glued to it. Younger kids probably don’t need those images in their heads at all. Teenagers may need to see for themselves, but watching those scenes over and over again simply does nothing but imprint the horror in their minds. Be a filter for what they see and hear. Talk with them about what they see and hear and keep talking.

Answer their questions. Don’t brush off your kids’ very real questions and fears. Answer the questions they ask. Reassure them that this isn’t something that happens every day. Talk about the security measures your school has in place to prevent something like this from happening. Keep talking and answering their questions as long as they have them.

There are no easy answers, no quick fixes when something like this happens. We can only hug our kids tight, give them an extra kiss as we drop them off at school and help them process the tragedy in their own way. And we can pray: pray that this never happens again.