In today’s world, kids are easily exposed to crises, disasters, and tragedies. Even with the best of efforts, we can’t fully protect children from know about or experiencing tragedies. They will learn about some things before they are ready.
How you react and respond to crises may have the biggest impact on your children. Model the language, worldview, values, and actions that you would like them to have. Depending on the crisis, your family may be able to engage in relief efforts—financial donations, food or clothing donations, clean-up efforts, advocacy opportunities, etc.
Even when global and local news headlines are overwhelming, you can make a positive impact starting within your family. Mother Teresa gave a wise perspective on the importance of starting peace efforts at home, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Nelson Mandela
What’s the relationship between protecting young ones from the grim realities of evil and helping them to act justly and love mercy?
Change-maker families seek ways to make a difference in their communities and in the world. Carefully consider the scale of the problems before engaging young people in an issue. Is the crisis too difficult for an adult to solve? If so, then children should not be involved as “first responders.”
Here are five suggestions for finding balance alongside impact.
Honor what they know
Young people are much more observant than adults might realize. They pick up on things from conversations, social media, TV, the internet, etc. If you are asked a question, answer it as truthfully as possible. You don’t need to offer more information or go beyond what they can understand.
When difficult things happen, it’s even more important for parents and adults to maintain trust. You can help them make sense of what they’ve heard and provide security in knowing that you can be counted on; you are truthful. I don’t believe in gas-lighting, aka pretending that nothing is wrong and they are just imagining something. Getting answers to their questions may be enough to satisfy the curiosity or worry.
From a teenager’s point of view on the news, MeiMei shares, “It’s important to talk with your parents. I learn the context of how issues relate to me. Even reading the news doesn’t always apply to me specifically. When you are a kid, adults can help you understand problems in a different light.”
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Fred Rogers
If the problem is too big for adults to solve, tread carefully with children. Refrain from dumping adult problems onto children, who don’t have the skills, knowledge or perspective to deal with them. It is irresponsible for adults to intentionally expose young people to immense problems that they cannot possibly solve. Proactively consider taking a “news fast” to limit the second-hand exposure that your children may get from videos, TV, or online.
Seek out children’s books that are at their developmental level as a source for introducing or discussing issues at the appropriate age. Picture books and story lines can help with processing a challenge through to a conclusion. From picture books to young adult novels, characters can help readers digest information and consider resolutions.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Kids play to work through things
Help kids to express their thoughts, feelings, and see how they can play out feeling a sense of agency and control. Play often involves problem solving to resolve a situation. Watch how they interact with friends and siblings. Listening to kids’ roleplay can be cute and funny, and it can also reveal what they are struggling with. Creative play or making art may help them to open up communication about feelings they are still processing.
“You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation.” Plato
Refocus on what they can control
Providing a child with a sense of agency, especially when things are uncertain or scary, is very powerful. Pay careful attention to what the child may want to do in response to learning about a tragedy.
From a faith standpoint, consider the opportunity to pray together and read the Bible. This is a genuine response that can always be fostered. When we are afraid or care about someone who is hurting, we can turn to God for help, protection, and healing.
Hugging a family member is a meaningful gesture that can give comfort and reinstate connection. Drawing a picture to give to someone who is lonely can foster a child’s sense of worth and positive impact on others. Any act of kindness, even if it isn’t directed at those who are suffering in the news, is positively stemming from empathy.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Create peace at home
You’ve seen the signs, posters, and social media posts where people share their strong opinions. “I stand with _______!” or “Stand for peace.” These are important statements and sentiments. Try focusing attention in your own home, where family members can take stand for peace amongst each other. Make getting along with siblings a priority through play and time together. Help them heal sibling rivalry, even small gestures can initiate peace. Discover ways to compromise together and complement one another.
Have a discussion about “peace” and what it means. Here are some quotes by Mother Teresa to ponder. “Peace begins with a smile.” “If we have no peace, it’s because we forgot that we belong to each other.” “We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace, we need love and compassion.”
Go for a walk. Pull out a puzzle. Play a game. Doing something together with your children will strengthen your connection, and give opportunity for thoughts or questions to emerge. Leave room for them to share about fears or to inquire about situations that trouble them. Remember that even if bad things are happening elsewhere, it doesn’t minimize the challenges in your child’s own life.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
Even if your heart is heavy from tragic events, remember the moments you have now with your children. Hug them tight. Focusing on the here and now in your home is important, so that your focus is not overshadowed by events beyond your reach.
I love this story, told by a dear friend who lived in West Africa a decade ago. “An old Ghanaian gentleman said the following to me, ‘Please don’t quiet down your children. When children make noise and play, it means that we, in Ghana, are not at war. Children can only run around and laugh when there is peace.’” Take delight in your children and appreciate the here and now.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is provide your children reassurance of your love. Having trustworthy adults in their lives will give them the foundation needed to make choices to help others, when the times arrive.
“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Dr. Albert Schweitzer
If you or your child has personally experienced trauma, this is not a sufficient list of ideas. Please seek professional support through a counselor, psychologist, pastor, etc. My suggestions are from the standpoint of my own experiences; I am not a trained professional to guide interventions or to give therapy.