Helping Children Deal With Tragedy

Helping Children Deal With Tragedy

Tragedy is all around us. And because of today’s ability to communicate, we hear about it more and more. Inevitably, children are often included as victims of the tragedy.

tragedyIt’s hard to watch, hard to deal with – as an adult! Yet our children need to deal with it, also. In this day and age, there is little chance of shielding them from hearing of tragic events. Which means we need to be proactive in helping them process their thoughts and emotions when they are exposed to tragedy.

But how?

I am by no means an expert in this area, but here are a few things I’ve learned in helping kids deal with tragedy (and, of course, use the lens of “age appropriateness” with each of these):

1. Let kids be kids. 

Children are still learning to manage emotions in general, let alone in regards to tragic news. They may express anger, sadness or any number of other emotions. That’s ok.

2. Be real. 

One of the most unsettling things for children is to see us as adults wildly emotional. It’s OK to allow them to see you upset about the tragedy, but be careful to control you emotions as much as you can – seeing the normal you will go a long way toward helping them believe everything in their world is OK. Remember that they are looking to you as the model for how to respond to these events.

3. Be honest.

Kids will look to you for answers but, let’s face it, answers are hard to come by. It’s OK to tell them that. When you can answer, limit the amount of information you give them – most of the details they don’t need to know.

4. Point them to a loving God. 

Tragedy is not what God intended for us, but the “why” question will be attached to every tragedy. Continually assure them of God’s love for them and for those involved in the tragedy.

5. Pray with them and for others. 

One of the most settling practices we can do is simply to pray with our kids. And pray with them for the victims, those who are affected and those who are responding. And it’s very good to allow our kids to pray for these others, as well. It’s a great habit for them to learn, but it also helps them feel like they can do something – or better, that the God who loves all of us can and will do something.

6. Look for other ways to help. 

It might be just that you have a regular prayer time for all involved. But you may be able to donate essentials to help those in need. Go as a family to the store to buy these and let kids be part of the process. If you can only donate money, let the kids know you’re donating as a family, and perhaps even let them contribute from their allowance or coin bank.

7. Limit exposure. 

Kids are going to hear about major tragedies. But allowing them to be exposed to endless hours of TV coverage, or constantly talking about it in their presence, just isn’t healthy for them. They need to continue in some sense of routine.

8. Keep an eye on them.

Just because you had a good talk with them initially it doesn’t mean that all will be well. Keep an eye on them and proactively manage any changes in emotion, behavior or daily routine.

What would you add to help kids deal with tragedy?

(please share in comments below)

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Greg Baird
Founder of Children's Ministry Leader & Vice President of Global Resources at David C Cook
The most important thing to know about me is that I am blessed beyond measure to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, to have married way over my head to my wife, Michele, and that I have two incredible grown sons named Taylor and Garret.

I serve as the Vice President of Global Resources in the Global Mission department at David C. Cook.

I love what I do as it is the outflow of 25 years of ministry experience as Children’s, Family & Administrative Pastor, consultant, trainer, speaker and short-term missions leader.

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