Christian Living


Family Matters 02/15/18

Tips for Talking to Your Kids about Violence

Tiroteo en la la escuela Sal Castro en Los Ángeles.

It's sad we have to keep talking with our children about how to react to vicious acts that are becoming more of a new normal in America. The recent killings at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and last October's mass shooting in Las Vegas remind us that we live in a time of great uncertainty and violence. 

Waking up to the news of another massacre means there are families in grief, traumatized survivors, and parents who are trying to explain this to their children and themselves.

What do you say to your kids when horrific events like these happen?

If your children are old enough to be aware of current events, you have to help them make sense of it all. Though, it is a good idea to turn off the news and limit exposure. With children, less exposure is better.

Before you say anything to your kids, process your own emotions. Most of us will struggle with grief, a loss of a sense of safety, increased perceptions of threat, and challenges related to injustice. I remember 9-11. I had time to process the horror before my children came home from school. That was especially important because my initial reaction was quite intense – given my brother's death by an act of terrorism years earlier.

When talking about senseless violence, also be sure to consider your child's age. Around the age of 8, most children can understand enough to have a helpful conversation. Younger children, however, simply don't have the abstracting and mental ability to process such horrific events. However, if young children see the news or hear about a mass shooting, reassure them of their safety. The younger the child, the simpler your story should be. Under the age of 5 or 6, one sentence should suffice. "A bad man hurt a lot of people. But, the police helped keep people safe and got the bad man."

Elementary age children don't need details either. They may ask a lot of questions, but focus instead on the heroes of the story. You don't want to etch damaging images in their minds. And you want to let them know that you and law enforcement are doing everything possible to keep them safe.

Young teens can, of course, talk more about their feelings of fear or anxiety. They may need your help to process those feelings. This is your opportunity to talk about God's role in our lives and how He is present even in troubled times.

Teenagers will have many questions and may need help developing resilience to these types of events. How are they to think about evil in the world, mental illness, and antisocial behavior? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God when terror is unleashed?

Give them spiritual guidance to guard against fear. And make sure you model faith and resilience in times of trouble. Pray. Ask God to comfort families, send help to those who suffer, so that no one is paralyzed by fear. Continue the conversation and talk about the after-shock of trauma with your teens.

In this world, there will be trouble. But, God promises His presence. He has given us power, love, and a sound mind – not fear. Walk this out by showing your confidence that God is in control even when the world seems to be falling apart. Model for your children how to respond to violence. Unfortunately, we all need to feel and see this type of resilience.

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