HOW TO TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT TRAGEDY
Posted by Carey Nieuwho
The news is heartbreaking enough to take in as a parent. Terrorist attacks. Mass killings. Planes blowing up. Beheadings. I know…please just stop right there.
Add to that the political chaos that seems to dominate the headlines, climate change, job losses and more. It’s just too much to take some days, even for us adults.
So as a parent, how do you even begin to engage these topics with your kids?
Well, for starters, you can try to shield them, and that will work for a while. But shielding a child from life won’t actually prepare a child for life. Eventually (far sooner than you’d like, probably), they’ll begin to awaken to the reality of the world around them. You can’t shield them forever. Eventually, they’ll leave home. And long before that, they’ll get a phone, an iPod or an iPad. It’s the world at their fingertips.
Then what do you do? How do you answer their questions?
Here are a few best practices I’ve seen and some guidelines that have helped me.
1. AVOID SIMPLISTIC OR UNREALISTIC ANSWERS.
I know, I know . . . of course you realize simplistic or unrealistic answers are unhelpful. But if that’s true, why do you and I give them so often?
It’s easy to say things like “everything’s going to be okay,” or “don’t worry, God won’t let that happen to us,” or “never mind, that’s not important.”
Wishful thinking isn’t helpful thinking. Kids believe what you say, at least until they learn not to.
I’ve talked to too many adults who still struggle spiritually because when they were little and they lost their mom, someone told them that “God must have needed your mom more than you did.” Talk about how to wreck a kid’s headspace. . . and heartspace.
That’s a simple answer, but it’s not a true answer.
If you don’t know what to say . . . just say you don’t know what to say.
Related: The Face of Grief
2. EMPATHIZE WITH THE STORY AND YOUR KID.
The news actually is heartbreaking. It’s actually okay to come alongside your child’s emotion and say something like,“That actually is heartbreaking. I’m very sad about that.” Or “Yes, that’s scary. Sometimes grown ups get scared too.”
If you’re engaging a teenager, you can be appropriately honest. Telling your child you don’t like the political situation either is actually okay.
Validating an emotion is the first step toward dealing with an emotion. Even if you can’t change the emotion, which you can’t. Or shouldn’t. Terror and death should never become normal.
3. TALK ABOUT A HOPE THAT GOES FAR BEYOND YOUR CIRCUMSTANCE.
Being truthful and expressing empathy is no a reason to leave your kid without hope, though.
Just because you see life for what it really is doesn’t mean you can’t also see God for who He really is.
The truth is, we have a God who is bigger than cruelty, who is bigger than terror, who is more powerful than any politician, and who is writing a bigger story. And—here’s the amazing part--we know how to story turns out. We’ve read to the end: good wins and God wins.
The thrust of scripture (which is frighteningly realistic about human nature and human history) points us again and again to this truth—we have a great big God we can trust no matter what. As in no matter what.
So why do we stop trusting? Why do we get too scared, disoriented or numb to give our kids hope that’s anchored in truth?
Too often what you and I look for in the news and in our personal lives is evidence . . .
that our circumstances are going to improve.
that we’ll be safe.
that none of this will happen to us or the people we love.
that we’ll find a job, or won’t get sick, or have even a little more money.
But the God of scripture isn’t a vending machine. Prayer isn’t a button to be pushed. It’s a relationship to be pursued.
Even more than that, our hope isn’t in our circumstances. It’s in God.
Our hope isn’t in our circumstances. It’s in God.
And God is bigger than our circumstances and he’s better than our circumstances.
If somehow we can convey the essence of truths like this to ourselves in times like these and ultimately to our kids, we’ll have reasons to believe when everyone else has stopped believing and reason to hope when everyone else has stopped hoping.
And when you watch the news (and shudder), you’ll be able to point to a hope that no human can ever destroy or threaten.
That’s something worth talking about. And that’s something worth sharing with the next generation.
About the Author:
Carey Nieuwhof is the lead pastor of Connexus Church and author of several books, including Parenting Beyond Your Capacity (with Reggie Joiner) and his latest book, "Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow." Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership and parenting. He writes one of the most widely read church leadership blogs at www.CareyNieuwhof.com and hosts the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast where he interviews top leaders each week.
HUDDLE IN CLOSE
Posted by Brooklyn Lindse
“The boys just kind of swarmed around one another next to their buddy, not really knowing what to say or what to do. They just knew they wanted to be close to each other. Somehow that helped. These fifth grade boys were huddled together at the front of the church after the funeral for the mother of the one in the middle of the bunch. It was evidence of community. It was unsophisticated and simple but it was very, very real.” -Mike Sligh, Headmaster, Lakeland Christian School (January 28, 2015)
What a beautiful picture, uninhibited by simplicity, and not afraid of the silence that sometimes accompanies genuine support and love. I’m encouraged by the kindness of a group of 5th grade boys. The words that they chose to show their love were spelled in the act of huddling in close.
Life brings tragedy and heartache. And as a parent, you will likely have to watch your child experience grief, whether it be over the loss of a special toy, a friendship or boyfriend, or even the life of someone close to them.. And your heart breaks too. Because you want to fix it, resolve it, but you know you can’t. How do you walk through it with them? What words do you say and how do you comfort your grieving child?
Huddling in close is one of the greatest kindnesses we can show our kids during these times.
We don’t have to say anything.
They likely don’t want to explain.
We realize without asking that everything is not fine in their world.
The words that they need are your proximity and your heart’s empathy.
Huddling in close is kindness for the weeping.
In those moments it’s normal to be unsure about what to say or what to do. There is no playbook for comforting our kids or anyone in crisis–except the guidance of love, the whisper of empathy, the holy nudge inside telling us to remain quiet or to reach out. There is no script for explaining to your child the sadness at hand. The best thing we can do is 1) admit that we don’t have an answer and 2) resist the temptation to try to make things better with our words.
Words will come later. Love comes in kindness first.
Be kind to the one who is hurting in your life. It could be your spouse, your child, or a friend.
Be kind by huddling in close without expectation and waiting for them to show you how to love them.
I wish I could get this right more often. The things I’ve heard echoed to me in painful situations over time can be heard escaping my lips before I’ve have had a chance to really weigh how they might be received. No one wants to add tears to a weeping soul. Nor do we ever want to crush to joy of a heart truly in celebration. But sometimes we do one or the other, without even knowing it. And sometimes, even when we’ve messed up, our next step should be to just huddle in close.
Huddle in knowing that love heals us.
Huddle in remembering that love binds us together.
Huddle in knowing that forgiveness will come.
Huddle in knowing that the huddling in type is the kind of community that every kid and family needs.
When my uncle passed away this summer, I was the officiate at his “way too soon” funeral. His only daughter, my precious cousin, faced me in the front row as I talked about her beloved dad. I felt deep in my soul that there weren’t any words that could capture him, there weren’t any words that could honor him best. But I knew that being there was saying what my words could not.
Later that day, my family climbed hay bales in the fields and drove four wheelers around the land of my uncle’s house. We laughed, remembering all of the adventures we’ve had in the past and all that we hoped for in the future. Without saying anything at all.
Huddle in close. Let the personality of a group of 5th graders be your guide. They’re so okay with not knowing the way, and so very willing to walk into it anyway.
What has helped you most when you have experienced grief?
What do you think your kids need most from you when they are walking through it?
Romans 12:15 “Celebrate with those who celebrate and weep with those who weep.”
About the Author:
Brooklyn has been a youth pastor since 2001. She has authored numerous books and projects, and is a youth pastor at Highland Park Church of the Nazarene, her first priority. Second she is a speaker who loves teaching from the Bible, and leading people to live in response to God’s love. Brooklyn, while named after a city in New York, lives in the sunshine state with her husband, Coy, and their sweet girls, Kirra and Mya.