Sometimes I wish I could just bubble-wrap my kids and protect them from all the sad stuff.
Like most parents, I try to make wise choices about what my kids are exposed to. I monitor their entertainment and their activities. I want them to be cultured, but not corrupted.
Yet I also want our home to be a safe place where they can wrestle with the big questions.
When they're having conflict with friends or frustrated by school, I want them to talk about it at home.
And when they're worried or sad about something, I want them to talk about it at home.
So I told them about the Boston Marathon bombings.
My 11-year-old had heard of the tragedy. We don't have the TV news, but her friends had texted her about it.
My other children are 9 and 6. At first I hesitated.... Did they really need to know about something that happened all the way across the country? Something that might really upset them?
Because I know good and well that my kids are eventually going to hear about it. And I wanted them to hear it from me--and not from another kid at school.
They needed to hear it at home.
So over our family dinner, we talked about it. They asked questions. I answered honestly. We prayed. When it was over, the kids were fine and all slept soundly last night.
I'm a far cry from a parenting expert, but I know what it's like to break bad news to my kids.
Here's what works for us:
1. Be honest about what happened.
Don't try to gloss over the tragedy by saying, "Well, honey, there was this kind of sad thing in Boston, but it wasn't that big of a deal, so don't worry, okay?" Be honest.
I told my kids: "A really sad thing happened today. A lot of people were running in a great big race called the Boston Marathon, and there were two explosions near the finish line. Lots of people got hurt, and a couple of people were killed by the blast."
NOTE: You don't have to go into gory or horrific details. (Please don't!) But do state the basic facts. Your kids are going to hear the facts of the tragedy from someone--it might as well be you.
2. Point out the goodness wherever you can find it.
Take Mr. Rogers's famous advice and "look for the helpers." Point out something--anything--to teach your kids how to stop focusing on the negative and look for something positive. Not all tragedies have an obvious silver lining, of course. But there is always a glimmer of goodness.
I told my kids about a picture I'd seen on Facebook: "You know what was interesting, though? I saw a photo snapped immediately after the first blast. All you could see was smoke... and about six first responders rushing into that smoke. In a split second, they all instinctively ran INTO the danger to help other people." Then we talked a bit about what it takes to have that kind of self-sacrificing love.
NOTE: It's not always easy to find the goodness in a tragedy. Sometimes it might be as meager as "she's no longer suffering" or "it could have been worse." The point here isn't to try to be Pollyanna; it's to show your children how to adopt a different perspective.
3. Remind them that God is always in control.
As Christians, we know that God is sovereign. He is always in control, even when things don't make sense to us. "The secret things belong to the Lord" (Deuteronomy 29:29). If God were small enough to be understood, He wouldn't be big enough to be God.
I told the kids: "It was really awful what happened today. Setting off that bomb was an evil thing to do. But God is bigger than evil. In fact, since there is no one and nothing bigger than God, we don't have to be afraid. God is for us. What's the worst thing that could ever happen to us?" (My oldest reponded, "We'd die and go to heaven." My youngest sagely pointed out, "Well, we might be in pain for a while and then go to heaven.")
NOTE: Don't change the subject when your kids ask questions about God. Let them ask--and then listen to them. Kids old enough to grasp abstract concepts need a safe place to ask their questions. I had a great discussion about heaven (and even the biggie: "How do you know there is a God?") with my 9-year-old last night. Give your kids the freedom to ask. And then calmly help them think their way through it. Don't be too quick to jump in with answers.
4. Assure them of God's peace.
Wrap up your discussion by assuring your kids that nothing will ever happen to them outside of God's hands (John 10:28-30). Every single day of their lives has been written in God's book since before they were born (Psalm 139:16). As my mom says, you can't live one day longer or one day shorter than God has planned for you. God's plan for your kids (and for you) is perfect, so they can live in peace--and not fear.
As the kids and I polished off the pizza and wrapped up our dinner discussion, I reminded them of several verses we memorized during a particularly trying time in our family:
"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)
"The Lord Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:1).
"The Lord is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1).
"When I am afraid, I put my trust in You" (Psalm 56:3).
We closed the conversation by praying for the victims, for their families, for everyone involved. We asked that God would grant them health and peace and that He would shine His light into the darkness of that tragedy.
I don't know the specifics of your family--maybe your kids are too young to understand any of this, or maybe you're not ready to tell them about it yet. (Obviously, you can't help your kids be at peace if you are fearful.)
If that's the case, may I leave you with this sentiment?
(Photo Credit: Bob Goff and @Nella365)