Discussing the Painfully Real with Kids

Another school shooting. At least 21 lives lost. Twenty-two if you include the shooter, who was barely a legal adult himself.

How do we talk to our kids about the painfully real situations that arise in a fallen, broken world? How do we prepare them for ugliness and hate? How do we teach them about pain, suffering, and loss? It is too hard. It is too sad. It is too much.  And so, it is necessary.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

We begin with Jesus, as we reflect on who He is and what He has done. We end with Jesus, as we look forward with hope to His return and His eternal reign.

The unfortunate reality is that we live in a world where we can say, “Another school shooting.” We must talk about it because every person matters. Every person will face eternity. Every life lost will enter eternal glory before God the loving Father or eternal judgment for sin before God the Holy and Just. So we shine the Light on these evil manifestations of sin, we declare that the victory is not won, and we proclaim the Hope within us.

There are some things we wisely withhold from our children. Unsupervised internet access and social media are some things I withhold from my boys (ages 10 and younger). They do not need all the details or images of every news story or world event. But as parents, it is our jobs to prepare them for the world and for the narrow path they tread if they choose to follow Jesus. But how do we choose what to say? What do we filter?

There are some steps I take when maneuvering difficult conversations with my children. As always, these are not all inclusive and are bound to evolve as the boys grow. For now, these five steps help me navigate painful topics:

  1. Pray: Seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. Desire His truth and not your own or outside opinions on the issue. Request that your child’s heart will be softened and understanding will be granted.
  2. Ponder: Take time to think through the issue. There is no need to rush into these conversations and sometimes your own pain is raw. It is necessary and beneficial to allow yourself time to process the facts. Determine what (if anything) needs to be shared with your child and if this information will be helpful or hurtful to them.
  3. Prepare: We do not want to overshare details that are not age appropriate, however, the older kids get the more they might hear from outside sources (friends, the news, etc). Sometimes it is helpful to outline what we will share with our kids to organize our thoughts. We must also prepare for questions our children might have in response. Allowing our kids the freedom to ask questions opens the lines of communication so they feel confident in coming to you if/when they hear other information.
  4. Preach: We begin with Jesus. We use every opportunity to teach our children the truth of the gospel. When tragedy happens, we explain that God created the world and He said it was very good. But sin entered the world and because of that sometimes really sad things happen. We can discuss relevant examples in the Bible or sad moments in our own lives. But Jesus was the answer to the world’s sin problem! He loved us so much that He sacrificed Himself in our place so that our sins might be forgiven. Sin has not yet been removed from the earth, but through Jesus the penalty for our sins can be removed from our eternity. This is why we must share God’s love and His gift of salvation with those He places in our paths.
  5. Problem Solve: We end with Jesus. God uses His family, His body to display His Kingdom on earth. We can discuss with our kids some ways we can influence our own communities in light of the recent events. We would talk about how sometimes people are hurt and that leads them try to hurt others. How do we recognize people who are hurting? How can we help people who are hurting? How can we share the love of Jesus with them before, during, and after difficult moments? *Specifically when discussing school shootings, I would remind my boys of the gun safety rules we have established in our own home. We would talk about the importance of listening to and obeying teachers, so that if a scary situation ever happens they know what to do. I would also explain to them the measures our school has in place for situations that might arise (multiple locked doors before entering classrooms, security persons in the building, etc).

My boys are currently ages 5, 8, and 10. They do not need all the details of what happened in Uvalde, Texas, but we can talk about the brokenness of this world. We can talk about people’s need for Jesus and the importance of sharing Him with others. We can pray for the families and friends who are mourning the sweet children and teachers whose lives were lost yesterday. My boys are young and I do not want to prematurely steal their innocence, but I am also responsible for training their hearts and minds in the Lord. So we will have the difficult discussions so that they might better understand the weight of sin in the world and the desperate need for a Savior. We talk through the pain in the world so we can develop and strengthen our compassion for others and our mission from God to go and make disciples.

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