As you most likely know, tornadoes caused major destruction in Arkansas on Sunday and in Mississippi and Alabama last night. You may be wondering how to talk with children about the damage and death. Here’s some advice. I truly hope it’s helpful. Unfortunately, this may not be the only time this spring and summer we experience the reality of damaging weather. Therefore, perhaps you could print this out and keep it handy.
Respond to emotion with emotion. Feel your children’s feelings before you analyze them. Hug them. Cry with them. Listen. Listen longer. Keep listening. Even longer. Don’t be afraid of silence. Try to not say anything that would cause them to wonder if their emotions are right.
Depending on your children’s ages and where you live, don’t assume they won’t hear about the tornadoes even if you haven’t discussed them. If you don’t homeschool, teachers may bring them up. They’ll want to be helpful and maybe they’ll relate the storms to their need to practice tornado drills or to content they’ve been studying. That’s good. But, if you want to make sure your children process the death and destruction with your worldview, you must discuss the tornadoes with them.
You might want to ask why death makes your children sad. Share why it makes you sad. A discussion about what makes life valuable might be just the thing to change a child’s apathy to energy and a parent’s critical spirit to one that’s more positive.
As Mr. Rogers recommended, look for and talk about the helpers – the first responders. Look for bravery and courage. Talk about these qualities. This is what you want your children to do if they ever find themselves in the middle of a challenging situation – to find first responders.
Talk about what you and your family could do if tragedy occurred where you live. Talk about the people in Arkansas who immediately gave blood. Let them know that many, many citizens have helped people search damaged buildings for keepsakes, etc. What could you do now to bless someone? Anyone?
Serving helps. Ministry matters. Love shows up. Love transforms. Love equips. Love heals. Pain disappears. Fear lifts. Confusion ends. Frustration expires. Eventually. In time. Wait for it. Watch for it.
Unfortunately, this most likely won’t be the only time in your child’s life that you’ll have to discuss tragedy. Therefore, get ready for the next time. The next conversation. What will you do differently? Did your values show up this time? How? What about next time? You may want to regularly talk about tragedies you read about and see on the Web and beautiful things that occur in the world so your children get more experience processing their feelings.
If, like me, you’re a believer and you want to raise your children to have strong faith, talk honestly about God. Hardship, challenges, and even tragedy visit Christians (Psalm 46). Yet, God is good and we choose to believe that because of what His Word teaches us (Romans 8:28). We don’t learn only from our experiences, although they have great value. Our hope (Psalm 62:5) gets us through dark days and we do grieve differently from those without faith (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Show your children, through prayer, worship, and study of the Word that your faith remains. Be honest if you have questions and emotions like anger. Let this experience heighten your awareness of who you know who doesn’t know Jesus and reach out, as a family, to share His love and testimony.