How to Help Kids Cope with Tragedy

Most everyone is grieved when we hear of another horrible incident where innocent lives are lost, and it’s no different this time around as we learn the details of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are struck with great sadness in learning that so many were killed and injured in this heinous act of violence. We are/will be exposed to ongoing media coverage, and we will see pictures, video clips, and interviews of those who were there when the shootings happened or were on the scene briefly thereafter. Once again, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy. And, my heart goes out to the victims, first-responders, and the families’ lives that will be forever changed by this event.

In our information age – and with all of the media coverage, it’s likely that only the youngest of children are sheltered from seeing or hearing information following tragic events like this one. Parents can play a vital role in helping their kids cope with the overwhelming tragedy associated with crises like this. To help you help your kids, I’ve put together some ideas that you might find useful.

1. Be willing to discuss events of violence with your kids.
Helping your kids cope with the violence in our world starts with being willing to discuss the tragedy with them. Children, particularly younger ones, can be scared by tragedies, wondering if something similar could happen to them. But if young children haven’t heard anything about the tragedy, don’t bring it up with them. Don’t rush into introducing these types of tragedies into your kids’ lives. Sadly, the time will come when it’s necessary to discuss these issues. If you know that your younger children are aware of the tragedy, ask them whether or not they have been thinking it. Find out if what they have heard has made them afraid. Talk with them, in an age-appropriate way, about what has happened and help to answer their questions and calm their fears. For older children and teenagers, assume that they know about the crisis and be proactive in making it a topic for discussion in your home.

2. Tell them the truth.
Honesty is the best policy – now as always. Still, honesty doesn’t mean that you need to share every gruesome detail of the event with your kids. Young children can be frightened by such cold, hard facts, so be sure to be age-appropriate when talking to your kids about this tragedy.

3. Shelter your kids from graphic video and pictures.
In our “24/7 live” news coverage from around the world, be aware that the graphic, often disturbing video and pictures – don’t have to be part of conveying the “news” of what’s happening to your children. My advice is that when mass shootings occur — especially in the immediate aftermath — keep the television news programs off when your kids are around.

4. Reassure your kids – as best you can.
Since we don’t have control over senseless acts such as mass shootings, as parents, we shouldn’t promise a child that we will protect them from any harm that such an event may bring. Our job here is to reassure them as best we can. If kids are worried that they might be caught up in a violent event, we can tell them how unlikely it is to happen. And, of course, we can tell them, “Mom and Dad will do everything we can to always make sure you are safe from harm.”

5. Don’t ignore the spiritual issues.
If you’ve ever wondered about what your kids think about God or faith in Christ, you’ll probably find out in the wake of a tragedy. Be prepared for questions about God and life (like “Why did God let so many people die?”) that you may never had heard from your child before. Kids really do want to talk about theological issues. Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring those questions to the forefront. Be ready. Don’t be surprised. And, if you don’t have all of the answers, that’s okay. Work to help your kids (and maybe even yourself!) search for the answers.

6. Look for signs of “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” in your kids.
It’s not uncommon for kids to suffer in varying degrees from “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) after a mass shooting that receives broad national media coverage. Changes in your child’s behavior such as regressing to more childlike behavior, acting out, withdrawal, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, or fear of a similar tragedy happening to them may all be signs that your child is suffering from PTSD. If these symptoms don’t resolve themselves, seeking the help of a professional Christian counselor would be a good next step.

7. Pray for those whose lives have been impacted by the tragedy.
If your family doesn’t have a regular family prayer time, I would encourage you to start one. Focus on praying for all those whose lives have been impacted by the tragedy. Praying as a family for these people also reinforces with your kids your own belief in God’s love and His power to care and heal those who have been hurt.

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the President of HomeWord and the Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 30 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage and Closer. Jim and his wife, Cathy live Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca and Heidi.

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