mass stabbing at a local college and a devastating explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. These tragic events are difficult for mature adults to understand. We can only imagine how they impact our children.
At the very least, in times like these, we may notice that our children are more clingy and ask a lot of questions. Some children will even start having difficulty sleeping, increased separation anxiety, nightmares, school refusal, and other forms of anxiety. The good news is that parents are not powerless! You have a crucial role in helping your child learn to deal with this chaotic world. You may not be able to take away all the pain or stop your children from experiencing hurt, but you can help them cope with this onslaught of senseless tragedy.
- First, turn off your television. This is always my first piece of advice to anyone experiencing symptoms of anxiety. There are just too many anxiety-provoking and just-plain-scary images on t.v. Avoid the nightly news, or watch it when your children are asleep. The images shown during news coverage of tragic events is graphic enough that children can actually experience a traumatic response, such as nightmares, intrusive memories of those images, extreme fear, etc. as a result of watching them.
- Stay calm. In such confusing times, children look to their parents for clues in how to respond. While they need to see honest emotional responses (tears are ok!), they also need to see a calm, reassuring adult who can remind them that they will be okay. A parent in full-panic mode will only send a child the message that indeed this world is scary enough that mommy and daddy don't even know how to handle it.
- Answer questions honestly (but, again, calmly). Children are likely to bombard parents with difficult questions about what happened and why. Don't shy away from trying to answer these questions. Place your child on your lap, give them a hug, and answer them the best you can, avoiding graphic details, but honestly sharing what you know. Older kids may ask pretty profound questions about evil and God. Be prepared to share with them that God is in control, even when it feels like He's not.
- Develop a family safety plan. Give your children a sense of control and safety by developing a family safety plan together. Although planning for a disaster may feel a little "doomsday," it can go a long way in helping ease a child's fears. FEMA, the CDC, and the Red Cross have tools on their websites that walk families through thinking about and planning for a disaster in your home or community. Also, find out about the emergency procedures and policies at your child's school or daycare and your workplace. Talking together about these plans can help children know that mommy, daddy, siblings, and themselves, will be safe in an emergency.
- Teach children to talk to God about their fear. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29). We are also told, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phillippians 4: 6-7). What reassuring words in troubling times! We can teach our children that in times of trouble, we can go to God with our burdens, prayers, and petitions. And, he has promised to give us peace beyond our understanding. Model this to them by praying with them, not only for the families impacted by tragedy, but also for help with their own fearful reaction to the tragedy. (Oh, and don't overlook that part about "with thanksgiving"!)
- Laugh and be silly. Please don't sit around moping and planning for disaster too long. Even in troubling times, we should remember to be joyful. Don't forget that laughter can be the best medicine! There is a time to weep and mourn, and there is a time for laughter and joy. Show your children that even in chaotic times, life can still have moments of happiness.