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What to do when Kids ask WHY?

As a father of two and a middle school principal, the tragic events at Newtown hit close to home and bring me to my knees in prayer.   It’s inevitable that kids will ask parents, “Why did this happen?”  Parents need to be ready to answer in a way that supports kids and is honest. If you are a teacher in a Christian school, you can also use these tips.

The tips on how to talk to your kids below are not from a professional standpoint but advice that I used as a dad when talking to my two children.

What To SAY/DO

Be the First To Tell Them - It’s important that children hear tragedies like this from their parents.

Pray Regularly – Take your child’s hand and pray with them for the students, teachers, and families of Sandy Hook Elementary.  I’d recommend not to pray about this with them before bedtime, use that as a time to reassure them in prayer.

Be Honest - Tell them what happened in an age appropriate manner.  My kids are in the middle school years, so we talked about what happened and we pray for the community of Newtown.

Reassure Them- Let them know that you are there for them and that they can ask you anything or talk about anything.  Regularly tell your kids that you love them, hug them, and encourage them.

Give them Time – Kids don’t process events like adults.  Perhaps they could express their thoughts through a drawing, painting a picture, or writing in a journal.

Let Them Express their Feelings - Kids often vary how they react to tragedy.  Allow them to express their emotions and don’t judge or try to change how they react.

Keep Routine – Kids feed off of routine, it’s important to maintain their regular schedule and activities.

Restrict Media Coverage – The media is not designed for kids and uses/shows inappropriate images/language for kids.

Provide Hope – In time, it’s important that kids begin to look to the future.   Help kids hope for upcoming events.  Talk about the days ahead, an upcoming vacation, or a holiday.

What Not to Say/DO:

This is  God’s Plan – It is not God’s intent that we are victims of violence. Christians often like to say that this is part of God’s master plan.  Kids don’t get that.  It doesn’t soften the pain that the victims and families feel; instead, it can encourage them to doubt God’s goodness.

God Allowed this to Happen for a Reason – So often, Christians will say that God allowed this to happen for a reason.  Yes, God could have intervened and stopped the shooter, but I believe that it is clear that God wants his people to grow and live life abundantly.

God needed another angel – Christians often use this phrase to soothe the hurt but it only adds to image that God is selfish or doesn’t have our best interest in mind.

God Has a Plan Through ThisTragedy- Yes, God’s plan will work through people because of this tragedy, but kids don’t have the reasoning skills to process this type of thinking.  Their frontal lobe is not fully developed and their brains are not as mature as ours.

Gory Details - Leave out the gory details and stick to generalities.  The gory details can be etched in a child’s mind for a long time and it may turn into dreams, unknown anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety.

24 Hour Coverage -Constant news coverage of the tragedy will raise a child’s anxiety.  Plus, news is not designed to communicate in child friendly language.


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Comments (2)

  • Judy

    Insightful thoughts and meaningful ways to offer hope to our own children and grandchildren and all who have been forever touched by this tragedy. Good
    comments on what “not” to say as well. Thanks.

  • Harold Sherrard

    You mention prayer, but beyond that it seems that any mention of God was on the no-no list. I agree with your points, but I wondered what you would say if children brought up God up in their own questions. I liked the explanation about the frontal cortex, but an actual age range for that fact might be useful to the readers. As you mentioned your children were in middle school – were their brains adequately developed by that point?

    I just found your website, and I’m totally loving it! You are doing a great job. Your father would be proud of you.

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