As a nation, we have experienced unspeakable violence in just the first few months of this year alone. I wonder – both as a parent and as a religious educator: how do we teach our children the principles of our faith and reconcile the terrible realities of the world in which we live?
We believe in “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” and yet we have to explain to our children that because of certain individuals, we are not able to realize our “goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” This is an age-old problem, I’m sure.
The good news is that we, as Unitarian Universalists, embrace such ongoing explorations for answers and truth. With that said, we still have the very present and challenging task of helping our children to navigate these unsettling waters and heal in the aftermath. To support my own family through this time, I did a little research I wanted to share with you all in hopes that these suggestions may bring some comfort and peace into your homes:
- Assume your children know about what’s happening. Media is pervasive in our world, and it’s difficult to protect children from graphic images, or even descriptive conversations, about real-life violence. The 24-hour coverage is hard to avoid for anyone, so it’s better to find out what your young ones know. Not talking about it at all may communicate that the subject is taboo, or that you are unavailable for their questions.
- Reassure your children and help them feel safe. It’s likely for children to be afraid and think that bad things will happen to them or those they love. It’s important to let children know that they are not at present risk (assuming this is true). Be realistic as you reassure them – let them know you love them and will do your best to protect them from harm. Empower them by talking about what they can do if they feel unsafe. Depending on their age, children can be taught how to adequately respond to emergency situations – such as how to follow a family fire evacuation plan or call the police.
- Be open to questions and share your feelings. Let kids know it’s ok to talk about unpleasant or frightening events. Listen to their perspectives and try to clarify any misunderstandings in ways they can more readily understand. Allow them to have a full range of feelings and responses, and try to support their caring and empathy with your own. Letting your children know if you feel scared, frustrated, or angry can validate their own emotions. Some kids may seem indifferent, which is okay too. Processing upsetting information can happen on many levels, and at varying speeds. Check back in later to see if they have more questions or concerns.
- Help children use varying outlets to express their feelings. Younger children may not be comfortable or skilled with words, especially about difficult situations. Using art, puppets, music or books might help them to open up about their reactions. Be on the lookout for all forms of non-verbal communication your children might be using to express themselves. They may need more general affection or attention to help them feel secure.
- Help children and youth find a course of action and share it with them. One important way for both children and adults to reduce stress and gain control is to take action. Writing letters, raising funds, volunteering for support organizations, and brainstorming other possible ways to be proactive in a situation can have many benefits for all. Children who know that their parents, teachers or other significant caregivers are working with them to make a difference feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. They feel more connected to their families and communities.
Ultimately, by being living examples to the children of our principles, we will help them to handle whatever trials and tribulations they may encounter. Teach and embody “compassion in human relations” and “acceptance of one another” in conjunction with a “responsible search for truth and meaning.” We are giving our children the tools to not only cope with catastrophe but also contribute to society, bringing both healing and hope to us all.
For further exploration and discussion, check out these great resources which may help your family manage through troubling times:
American Psychological Association
Managing Traumatic Stress
Building Your Resilience
Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
Helping Your Child Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
American Red Cross
Contains information about “Discussing Hate and Violence with Your Children.”
PBS.org – Talking With Kids About the News
Develop strategies for discussing today’s headlines with children. Learn how to calm their fears and stimulate their minds.
Institute for Disaster Mental Health
Fuller Youth Institute – A Christian organization for youth ministry
YOU are never alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Crisis text hotline: 741741