Our Children Are Listening- Let’s Make Sure It’s Our Voice They Are Hearing
Sadie Wohlfahrt, Children’s Minister
|How do we talk to our children when bad things happen?
It’s a question I received often as a teacher, and even more so as a church leader. Each time tragedy strikes- most recently, in the form of racist protest and bigotry- we ask ourselves again, “How will we explain this to children?”
I’ve put together the following, as a guideline for you in these discussions. This is not by any means exhaustive, and every child is unique. Please contact me at any time for support.
- Yes, we do need to talk about it.
Sometimes we avoid conversation because it is risky and uncomfortable- or we worry that they are “not ready.” But our silence is permission for others to fill in the blanks. We want to impart our own family’s values; not leave our children vulnerable to absorb someone else’s. Your children are amazingly perceptive- and in the current age of constant media bombardment, and rapid speed of information- they are more aware than ever.
A good general rule of thumb, is that it is best to go ahead and have these conversations with any school-aged children (whether they ask or not), and with any preschool-aged children, if they ask you first. School-aged children will undoubtedly hear chatter among peers; preschool-aged children are more shielded, and tend to hear the information you want them to hear.
- Pray first, for the Holy Spirit to guide your conversation.
Thank God for the blessing of your children. Affirm the partnership you have with God, to shape your child’s character. Ask God to calm any concerns, and empower you with boldness.
- Make a general statement about what has happened, and your family’s stance on the issue.
An example of this is:
There are some people in our country, who feel it is okay to hate others because of their skin color, or their religion, or their gender, or where their family is from.
This is not how Jesus taught us to treat one another. God loves ALL of God’s children, and asks us to love everyone also- no matter what.
Sometimes, these groups of people talk about their hate very loudly, in public places. A few days ago, this happened, and some people were hurt very badly. One person died. It is very sad. Our family will be praying for those who were hurt, and also for those who did the hurting. We will pray that God will change their hearts, and they will love their neighbors, as God loves them.
- Ask open-ended questions, and be honest in your answer.
Some examples may be:
Have you heard something about this already? What have you heard?
How do you feel about it?
What have we learned from the bible, about how to treat one another?
(love your neighbor as yourself; offer forgiveness; pray without ceasing; defend people as Jesus defended them; do not judge others)
Do you have questions for me, about what has happened?
Do you have any ideas about how we might be able to make this better?
Remember- we can be honest and direct, without giving too much detail. Avoid details about the specific event, which will confuse or upset children, unless they specifically ask. Sometimes, less is more. Keep referring back to your family’s stance from earlier, and restate it as needed.
- It is okay to say “I don’t know.”
If your children ask you something that gives you pause, or you aren’t sure how best to answer them, it is perfectly okay to say “I am not sure about that” or “I need to pray about that first, and I will get back to you.” You can also reaffirm that we are part of a greater Christian community by saying “I would like to talk with our pastor/church family first, and make sure I give you the right information. I will let you know what I find out.”
You are teaching your child SUCH a valuable lesson with this response. You are modeling thoughtfulness, prayer, and discernment. You are communicating that you will never pretend to “know it all,” and that you will always be honest with your child.
- However your child responds, is okay and normal!
Some children will become emotional, and ask many questions. Some will display very little reaction at all, ask very few (if any) questions, and not appear to have been affected. Many children will process over a period of time, and ask questions later. Some children will seem bored and change the subject quickly. (They may also do this as avoidance- and that is okay, too.) Remember- all children are unique, and the most important element, is that you stated your family’s values, and communicated trust and love, by including your child in a discussion of “adult” issues.
7. Here’s a great list of books to help you start conversations with your kids!
You’ve heard me say it before: hope for peace lies with our children.
God has entrusted us, to make sure they know it!
Grace. Grace. Grace,