Talking to Our Kids About World Events

Yesterday was a very scary day in our household.  It was the first tornado warning we went through since moving from California.  While I was trying to protect and comfort my eight year old son, who is literally terrified of thunder, I needed to watch the news to keep myself informed about the severity of the storm heading our way.  He wanted to be beside me all day, so when I left the living room (where Disney movies were playing) to go into my bedroom to momentarily watch the news coverage, he would follow behind me.  The thunder and blowing rain was shaking the windows and at one point the local TV station showed a map with colors of red, black, yellow and green approaching our area.  The word ‘tornado’ was used by the news people and written boldly across the screen, too.  It was so scary for him.  It was scary for me, and I’m an adult!  Try as I might, I could not protect him from all the fear he was feeling.  All I could do was try to comfort him during the scariest times.

Let’s go back to a couple weeks ago to the earthquake and tsunami that ripped through Japan.  Constant coverage of the painful devastation played out on every television channel.  Even if you tried to NOT watch the news, it seemed as though pictures of the destruction, families frantically and tearfully searching for loved ones who may have been swept away in the tsunami, and then talk of radiation leaks filled every source of media.

Most school-aged kids knew that there was something bad happening–somewhere.  Maybe they knew Japan was far, far away.  But maybe they weren’t sure HOW far.  I can only suppose that their biggest fear would be, “could this happen to me…?”

So, how do you protect your kids, yet answer their age appropriate questions about disasters in the world? How much information is too much? How do we use God’s Word during these times to help explain, comfort and reassure our kids that God cares and is there?

I took this question to my good friend, Laird Bridgman,Psy.D .  Not only is he a licensed and practicing psychologist, he’s also an ordained minister.  A pretty good resource, indeed!! This is what Dr. Bridgman had to say:

Parents frequently ask me about how to talk to their children about natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami that recently struck the island nation of Japan.  I give the same answer to all parents, “It all depends.”  There are many variables to consider in this situation such as was your child directly impacted, indirectly impacted, or not at all impacted?  A child who is directly impacted is someone who is either in the area of the disaster, from the area, or has close family or friends who are and whose involvement has impacted the child.  A child is indirectly impacted, for example, when they see the news story on TV and are upset by the story.  A child who is not impacted at all may have no knowledge of the event or for whom the event is so removed from them that they have no reaction.  The more impacted your child is, the more important what you have to say becomes to them.  Another factor to consider is the nature and life circumstances of your child at this time.  You have to use your best judgment as to whether any and/or how much discussion of the event will be helpful, versus harmful, to your child.  For example, many parents make the mistake of assuming that their children process these types of catastrophes in the same way that we adults do.  Your child may or may not be concerned about the big questions like, “Do all those children that died get to go to heaven?” or “If God is a loving god, why did He allow that to happen?”.   It could be more damaging than helpful to bring up a question like that when that thought hasn’t even occurred to your child yet.  Your best bet is to use the old principle of “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Try and talk to your child about what they have heard about the event from teachers and or friends, or if you know they saw a news broadcast for example, what they remember hearing.  Once YOU know what THEY know, then you can start a conversation about what that means to them and if they have any strong emotions about it.  Remember most children process things very differently than adults and many are pretty much in the “here and now”.  “There and Then” can have little impact on them.  Be prepared for a very short conversation as often times our children talk the LEAST to their parents, or for a conversation loaded with those really big questions about the “why” these things happen.  Either way the conversation goes, the effort you give will be comforting and meaningful to your child, even if they don’t show it right now.  If you get the big “why” questions, sometimes the best answer is “Honey, I don’t know, nobody does for sure, but we DO know that God weeps with those who weep, and comforts those in need.  They are not alone, He is with them, just like He is with you, everyday.”

Dr. Bridgman leaves us with these two verses that remind us that God is right here to help comfort us during the most fearful of times: 2 Cor 1:3-4 (Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. ) and John 14:17 (The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. )

One thing that seemed to comfort my kids was praying for the people of Japan every night.  We used Scripture to remind us about being part of the Body of Christ, and that if one part was hurting, the other part of the Body was to hold it up.

Have you ever struggled with talking to your kids about world events?  How have you approached these topics? How have you used God’s Word to guide you?


Thanks to Reverend Dr. Laird Bridgman, Psy.D., C.E.A.P.

You can follow Lisa on twitter @lisastrnad and she blogs regularly at talkinglikeagirl.

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