Unfortunately, daily news and headlines are filled with tragedy, disasters and violence. Despite our best efforts, we can’t always spare children from hearing about or experiencing tragedy. Yet those of us who minister to kids can have a huge impact in helping children cope with trauma and grief.
Tough circumstances are hard to watch and hard to deal with, even for adults. Because we can’t completely shield children from being exposed to tragic events, we need to be proactive in helping them process their thoughts and emotions.
How should we be helping children cope with trauma? I’m by no means an expert in this area, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. (Of course, always use the lens of “age-appropriateness” with each of these tips.)
8 Pointers for Helping Children Cope With Trauma
1. Let kids be kids.
Children are still learning to manage emotions in general, let alone feelings about tragic news. They may express anger, sadness or any number of other emotions. That’s okay.
2. Be real.
One of the most unsettling things for children is to see us as adults wildly emotional. It’s okay to allow them to see you upset about the tragedy, but be careful to control your emotions as much as you can. Seeing the “usual” you goes a long way toward helping kids believe that everything in their world is okay. Remember that they’re looking to you as the model for how to respond to challenging events.
3. Be honest.
Kids will look to you for answers, but let’s face it: Answers are often hard to come by. It’s okay to admit that. When you can provide an answer, limit the amount of information you give. Usually, children don’t need to know most of the details.
4. Point children to a loving God.
God didn’t intend tragedy for his beloved creation. But each and every tragedy has some element of the “why” question attached. Continually assure children of God’s love for them and for all the people involved in and affected by the tragedy.
5. Pray with them and for others.
One of the most settling practices we can do is simply pray with our kids. Together, pray for the victims, everyone who’s impacted, and all the first responders and medical personnel. Not only is prayer a great habit for children to learn, but it also helps them feel as if they can do something. Or even better, that the God who loves all of us can and will do something!
6. Look for other ways to help.
Having a regular prayer time for all involved is a great help and comfort. But you also may be able to donate essentials to help people in need. As a family, go buy these things at the store. Let kids be part of the process. If you can only donate money, tell children you’re donating as a family. Perhaps even let them contribute from their allowance or coin bank.
7. Limit exposure (as much as possible).
With the media saturation in today’s culture, children are bound to hear about major tragedies. But allowing them to be exposed to endless hours of TV coverage, or constantly talking about disturbing headlines in their presence, just isn’t healthy for them. Kids need to continue in some sense of calm and routine.
8. Keep an eye on kids.
Just because you had a good talk with children initially doesn’t mean that all will remain well. Monitor kids carefully, and proactively manage any changes you notice in their emotions, behaviors or daily routines.
Click here to read more about helping children cope with trauma. And please share your suggestions in the comments below!