At the bottom of this post are suggestions for helping children to cope with tradegy.
But it’s not just our children who struggle to understand the massacre in Newtown. For some this unspeakable tragedy brings sorrow towards the victims, for others it awakens or connects to sorrows of our own. And for some it does both. Hope rests not in pious cliches or religious platitudes. Nor in rejecting faith as irrelevant. Instead, we need the permission to pray the mess of our emotions as an act of faith. Psalm 5 and 46 are such prayers.
For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David.
1Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
2Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
3In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
4For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
5The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
6 you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest.
7But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.
8Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
9Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
10Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
11But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
12Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.
1God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Helping Children Cope with Tragedy
In the midst of recent events, one of our common reactions as parents is to shield our children from it. Children sense our stress and that of others around them; we must deal openly and honestly with the questions they may have. So, what is the Christian response? 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our anxiety upon Him, because He cares for us. Psalm 47 tells us that God is King over all the earth; that He reigns over the nations.
Why did God allow this? We don’t know (Deuteronomy 29:29). We cannot finally answer the problem of evil and suffering to our complete satisfaction.
We do know four things that God’s Word makes clear:
- Evil is real. We can and should be angry at this tragedy. Just as Jesus stood before Lazarus’ grave and was agitated at death John 11:33-36), so we too should be angry at heartache and disruption.
- Evil is unnatural. As Dr. Os Guiness has declared, “The world should have been otherwise.”
- God is good. Romans 8:28-39 reminds us that God is able to make all things work together for the good of His own. Even though we do not fully understand these events, He promises to make good out of them. We are to fight against evil because our great God has fought against it at the Cross and won!
- God is sovereign. He has not lost control (Psalm 103:19; 115:3). One day He will put every enemy under His foot, conquer all evil, and bring justice to bear. *
Helping Pre-School Age Children Handle Disaster-Related Anxiety
Reassure pre-schoolers that they’re safe. Provide extra comfort and contact by discussing the child’s fears at night, by telephoning during the day and with extra physical comforting.
Get a better understanding of a child’s feelings about the disaster. Encouraging children to draw pictures about the disaster, and then discussing them, will offer insight into each child’s particular fears and concerns. You can work to structure children’s play so that it remains constructive, serving as an outlet for expressing fear or anger.
Helping School Age Children Handle Disaster-Related Anxiety
Children this age may ask many questions about the disaster, and it’s importance that you try to answer them in clear and simple language. If a child is concerned about a parent who is distressed, don’t tell a child not to worry. Doing so will just make him or her worry more.
Here are several important points to remember with grade-school-age children:
False reassurance does not help this age group. Don’t say disasters will never affect your family again; children will know this isn’t true. Instead say “I’ll always try to keep you safe,” or “Adults are working very hard to make things safer for the future.” Children’s fears often get worse around bed time, so you might want to stick around until the child falls asleep in order to make him or her feel protected.
Monitor children’s media viewing. Images of the disaster and the damage are extremely frightening to children, so consider limiting the amount of media coverage they see. A good way to do this without calling attention to your own concern is to regularly schedule an activity – story reading, drawing, movies, or letter writing, for example to replace watching the constant news coverage.
Allow them to express themselves through play or drawing. As with younger children, school-age children sometimes find comfort in expressing themselves through playing games or drawing scenes of the disaster. Allowing them to do so, and then talking about it gives you the story they have expressed in pictures with an emphasis on the child’s and his or her family’s safety.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Part of keeping discussion of the disaster open and honest is not being afraid to say you don’t know how to answer a child’s question. When such an occasion arises, explain to your child that disasters are very unpredictable, and they cause things that even adults have trouble dealing with. Temper this by explaining that, even so, adults will always work very hard to keep children safe and secure. **
* Prepared by the pastoral and children’s ministry staff of McLean Presbyterian Church in McLean, VA. September 11, 2001.
**The above information has been supplied by the NC State University Website. For more information, log on to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu.