What do I say to my kids when tragedy happens?

Nick Charalambous

When the news of a school shooting breaks, a thousand questions run through our minds. 

Where are my kids?
Are they OK?
How did this happen?

If you’re a parent, you probably hugged your children a little tighter in the face of such a terrible reminder of the evil in our world. But it’s also natural to feel uncertain about the best way to tackle the news with your kids — or whether you should talk about it at all.

What if my child is scared? What if my child asks tough questions like, “Why would such a bad thing happen?” Or, “How do I know it won’t happen to me?”

There are no easy answers. It’s impossible for adults — let alone children — to make sense of a tragedy like this, but you can use this as an opportunity to talk to your children about evil and fear and to offer the comfort of Jesus. 

5 Tips for Talking About Tragedy with Your Kids

1. Talk honestly about what happened. 

It’s likely your kids will hear about the school shooting in the media or from their friends, so be the first to give them a truthful account of the facts. Your honesty will create trust and guards against the fear-mongering that sometimes accompanies tragedy.

Jesus never held back the truth to protect people, even when the truth was messy or uncomfortable. Jesus told a rich young man that the only way to heaven was to love God more than money (Matthew 19:16-22). He told a woman He’d just met she was looking for love in all the wrong places, and He told His disciples that He would die (John 4 and Mark 8:31-38). Jesus was never mean or cold when delivering hard news, but He also never shied away from truth. 

Honesty is the example Jesus set for us, and it’s a mark of our love for others (1 Corinthians 13:6). 

2. Share your feelings. 

It’s normal to feel sad, scared, and angry following a tragedy like a school shooting. Children learn how to handle emotions by watching their parents, so model for them a right response of grief and sadness. But also make it clear that those powerful emotions don’t have to lead to fear and panic.

Jesus wept after the death of a friend (John 11:35). And God speaks freely of His anger when there is injustice in the world (Psalm 89:14). One indication of the Holy Spirit’s work in us is the ability to feel deeply while not allowing our emotions to control us. 

Instead of trying to understand why, help your child understand that God is heartbroken over this, too.

3. Acknowledge the reality of evil. 

Remind your child that events like a school shooting are not common, and there are many adults — teachers, police, and others — who are working everyday to make schools and neighborhoods safe.

But brokenness is a reality in our world. Death, pain, and suffering can happen to anyone, anywhere. This is another truth Jesus didn’t shy away from, telling us “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

Talk openly about sin as the cause of all that is evil and wrong with the world. Sin isn’t fair, and sin doesn’t make sense. Instead of trying to understand why, help your child understand that God is heartbroken over this, too, and He sent Jesus to earth to do something about it. When we ask Jesus into our lives, sin and death do not win because we will always live with Jesus in eternity, where there is no sin or suffering (Revelation 21:14). 

Talking about sin often leads to questions about heaven and salvation. If your child has never asked Jesus into their life, share the Gospel with them. This video is a good place to start.

4. Offer comfort. 

Even in the hardest of times, we can take comfort in God’s mercy. Look for the miracle in your midst at every moment — the students who were safely evacuated, the fast response times of first responders, the ability to quickly receive medical care.  

Lead your children in thanking God for all the ways the tragedy was not worse. Help them understand that Jesus can help us overcome fear when we remember that He is always with us (Psalm 23:4).

5. Pray together. 

Prayer gives us a way to channel our emotions in a healthy way. Ask God for healing, help and comfort for the victims, their families, and their friends, the students at the school, the police and emergency workers, and others directly affected. Let your children know that they can talk to God about their fears and struggles, and ask for help, too. Jesus promises to give us peace (John 14:27).

Remember, you’re not in this alone. If you need to talk to someone or want to pray with someone, you can reach out to our care team here. Talk to your school if you think your child needs additional resources.

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