Like most of you, I woke Monday morning to the news of yet another unimaginable horror that unfolded as I slept, blissfully unaware. I hurriedly scanned the news articles, anxious for information and explanation, and then openly wept in the Starbucks drive-through as I watched some of the footage. It shook me to the core.
Our culture is quickly becoming desensitized to violence and, unfortunately, many of us may find ourselves tempted to stick our head in the sand each time we read a national headline because opening the article and hearing the story of loss and pain is too much. It’s easier to click away. Or, we scan the article and shrug it off as just another day in America.
Our privilege allows us to keep those hard things at arm’s length. At least, until it hits closer to home.
Children, however, are not at a stage in life in which they can compartmentalize major events such as the tragedy in Las Vegas. For their sake, anyone who actively invests in the life of the child (which we ALL should be doing on a regular basis!) cannot simply check out.
As much as I want to believe this will be the last one, we all know that’s not the case. And, remember that children can pick up on major tragedies long after the news cycle has ended; you never know what they will hear or read. So how do trusted adults in their lives respond?
One of the hardest things an adult will do is explain the unexplainable to a child. Be ready to help them process when that time arises. Here are some ideas:
- Don’t assume they know the whole story – or even part of the story. Ask them what they know first.
- Use open-ended questions to allow them time to process. I particularly love asking children “I wonder…” I wonder how we can help… I wonder how their families felt… just ask the question. The child may or may not answer the question aloud but they will think about it. Don’t answer it for them.
- Remember that you don’t always have to offer answers and explanations. For a tragedy like Las Vegas, there is no explanation. It’s okay to say that you/no one knows why.
- Children are egocentric; they want to know if it can happen to them. Reassure them that the event was unusual and that safety measures are being put into place so it doesn’t happen again. Older children may find comfort knowing that there is a massive investigation that goes on in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Children are taught to learn from negative situations so it’s comforting for them to know that adults do, too.
- Do something! If the conversation leads to the fact that first responders are there to help us in scary times, bake some cookies and deliver them to the police department so your child can see the first responders up close and thank them for keeping them safe. Think of a hands-on way your child can process.
- Remind them again and again that they can always trust God and talk to him when they are scared. Together, talk to God aloud! Share your own fears in the prayer and invite your child to share theirs, too. Remember that trusting God is an abstract thought for young children but they do trust the adults in their lives – their trust in you is the foundation for understanding that they can trust in God. What an honor!
My prayers are with each of you that will have these difficult conversations in the days to come.