In light of the Las Vegas devastation that just occurred, I thought it fitting to pause and consider how we can talk to our children about death and tragedy. When we were kids our parents could turn off the evening news to protect our innocence. Today, however, our kids have access to 24-hour news via the internet. Sometimes my kids even know what’s going on in the world before I do thanks to iPad time at school; meanwhile I’m at home wrangling two toddlers and reading Go Dog Go!
I know it’s tempting to protect our children for as long as possible, but we must learn to balance shielding them from iniquity with informing them of worldwide events. They need to know that trouble, evil, and misfortune occurs in this world because the Bible promises us,
“. . . In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
If we are raising our kids in a world where we cannot protect them from death and tragedy, how can we talk to them about these things?
4 Things to Remember When Talking to Your Kids About Death and Tragedy
Use age appropriate language.
My kids range in age from one to twelve, so the information I give my three-year-old will differ from what I tell my ten-year-old. Consider words, phrases, and tone of voice when talking to each child, and also consider their maturity levels. Also think about your child’s temperament. If your child is sensitive and compassionate, then issues such as death and natural disasters might be difficult for his heart to handle. You might need to unpack the details in multiple talks instead of blindsiding him with one major conversation.
If you try to protect your child by twisting or sugarcoating the truth, you will develop of pattern of coddling her. Do our children need to hear all the gory details about a school shooting? No. But do they need to know enough truth so when their best friend talks about it on the playground they know what is fact and what is fiction? Yes. Answer her questions honestly, yet using your filter of age appropriateness. Which brings us to my next point.
Don’t avoid tough questions.
Kids are inquisitive. They often ask questions we avoid. They face feelings we like to stuff. If we won’t answer their questions, they’ll ask their BFF, and I’m pretty sure we don’t want an eight or thirteen-year-old imposing their wisdom about death and faith. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s O.K. to say, “I don’t know.” Your child will appreciate the fact that you are human. Some tragedies are beyond our comprehension.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
When it comes to situations such as the Las Vegas massacre, here are some questions your children might ask, and some answers you might consider:
“Why did he do it?”
- Because his mind was not in a healthy place.
- We don’t know, but we can pray for the people he hurt and their families.
- We don’t know, but we can pray for his family because they are suffering now that he is gone.
- We don’t know, but we can pray that something like this never happens again.
Why does God let bad things like this happen?
God doesn’t allow bad things like this to happen; people allow bad things to happen. Remember when Eve took the bite out of the fruit and Adam followed her lead? That is when sin entered the world. (Genesis 3) Ever since then people have had the choice to do what is right or to do what is wrong. The man who hurt these people chose to do what is wrong. If God stopped people from doing bad things, then God would have created robots, not people. God created people who have free will to love Him, or hate Him; to do what is right, or to do what is wrong.
Is the man who chose to do what was wrong in heaven?
We don’t know. Doing bad things doesn’t prevent us from going to heaven, just like doing good things doesn’t get you a free pass into haven. The only way into heaven is to know Jesus Christ as your Savior.
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
Anytime we lose a loved one, endure a difficult situation, or walk our child through tragedy, it’s always an opportune time to remind our child (and ourselves) that one day everything that is wrong will one day be made right.
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
-2 Peter 3:13