The horrific news from Florida has all of us reeling. It’s leaving far more questions than answers in its wake. And it’s possible your kids are contending with some of the same questions we as parents are: “Is my school safe?” (If it helps, Keys for Kids just posted this devotional story to read with your kids.)
A few thoughts as you consider what to say to them.
They’re taking notes. As our kids seek to understand some bitter realities of this world, they’re picking up a lot from our nonverbal signals. They see whether we’re speaking to them out of anxiety, for example, or seeking to trust even when we’re afraid. They see that we, too, have grief and anger. In our reactions, we can help them deescalate. They’re seeing, too, whether we’ll tell them the whole truth and provide substantive, thoughtful (rather than clichéd) responses–or whether they should stick to Google, the kids on the bus, and the other rudimentary tools in their kid-sized toolbox. Let’s talk to our kids about this.
Leave space for lament, anger, and questions. Ask your kids questions about what they’ve heard, what they’re thinking about and feeling, what questions they have–and let those questions guide your conversation. Personally, I’m not choosing to say “That won’t happen at your school”–because that can undermine my trustworthiness with my kids. (My kids usually sniff out someone pulling one over on them.) Instead, I talk about what we can trust (see #3, 4, & 7). I want to listen to their worries, validate them, talk them through (here are some talking points, and part II of them, which I used when my daughter was having some legit fears), and check back with them later. We don’t need to create answers for all of the questions flowing from this open wound. We can simply make space for comfort, listening, and hope in a God who redeems this broken world.
Understand who keeps us safe–and that safety is not truly the end goal. Our hope does not lie in meticulous control. As my friend Kristen wisely writes here, events like these force our hand.
Oh, we can be wise, but we can’t be in control…If you watch old home videos of me with my kids, I say “Be careful” 4256 times. But I didn’t give them breath and I can’t determine when they take their last…
We might not be in control, but we cling to the promise that He is and works things out for our good.
I’ve also got David Platt’s words rolling around in my head this morning:
The call of Christ is to deny ourselves and to let go of our lives. To relinquish control of our lives, to surrender everything we are, everything that we do, our direction our safety our security is no longer found in the things of this world. It is found in Christ. And that is great risk when it comes to the things of this world.
Set our hearts on another world. As Christians, as we slowly pry our fingers open from safety, we need not ultimately fear even even for our kids; death has “lost its sting.” Yes, death means profound loss. But death is also our last and defeated enemy. Death is transportation to the only place of ultimate safety, peace, and justice. Professor Denny Burk reminded me today, “The delay of God’s justice isn’t the absence of God’s justice: ‘He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished’” (Exodus 34:7).
Personally, understand the bullying connection. Our own kids, depending on their age, may not need to see the connection between the powerlessness felt by bullied children, whose schools sometimes even unknowingly reinforce the social hierarchy though unfair treatment. Being bullied is, of course, never an excuse for violence. But our kids can be part of a daily solution (out of love, not a mantle of fear). They can constantly reinforce kindness to the underdogs of their world. Have discussions about the social order in their own classes, including who’s on the bottom and who’s at the top. Without mentioning ties to our world’s events, brainstorm with them ideas to advocate for the “least of these” in their classrooms–disconnected kids who really can do very little in return. They’re kids who may desperately need a sliver of hope, even in the form of a kind smile or a friend at lunchtime.
Personally, understand the screen time connection.Studies have shown that following certain amounts of screen time, kids’ ability to accurately discern human facial expressions diminishes. That’s a decrease in their ability to empathize, folks. Those children also demonstrate increased depression and aggression. So even if you’re monitoring what (potentially violent) worlds your children are entering through the rabbit hole of their media, the amount of time matters too. Monitor quality and quantity. I’ll quote neurologist Dan Siegel on this one:
If repeated experiences actually change the physical architecture of the brain, then it becomes paramount that we be intentional about the experiences we give our children.
God uses even this for good–and yet the act itself is so clearly not good. I keep remembering Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, weeping. He even knows that within minutes, God will use this death to enact one of the greatest miracles of all time. Let’s guard ourselves and our kids from pat answers, or whisking away the hard emotions. Instead, let’s help them construct an emotionally healthy framework for responses to any nightmare in their future.
It needs to be said. Blogging about parenting can feel a little like heading for an outhouse in a snowstorm, y’know?
Because honestly, there’s waaaaay too much I don’t get right. (And aren’t we all a little skeptical of the people who seem to be doing it with Pinterest perfection?) Sometimes I pull up a chair to blog about parenting and I’m thinking, Which failure shall I blog about this month?
From the beginning, I think God’s had it out for me to shake up my (firstborn, overachieving, idealistic) parenting goals. As in, pretty soon after those two little lines turned pink.
Something tells me you’ve got your own parenting expectations that kind of vaporized in the presence of real children. Goodbye, baby wash commercial. Hello, price-club paper-towels-that-double-as-ottoman.
Today, I’m posting on my friend Kristen Welch’s site, WeAreTHATFamily.com, about what to do with all of our expectations as parents. Want to think about it with me? Hop on over and check it out.
If you like it, please share it! (And consider subscribing up there in the right hand corner.)
He must have been two, I think, when it happened: back when his cheeks still looked like he was storing up nuts for winter. The store’s fluorescent lights buzzed above, and it must have been the time of year that the air conditioning was running full-blast there in the South. I was pregnant with our third, and making one of those fly-bys mothers of young children perform in a store when they have to look at a rack before one of her kids starts crying, whining, distracting, throwing things out of the cart or into the cart–you get the idea. The store wasn’t busy. Which must have been the reason I lifted him out to explore for a moment.
I gotta tell you guys: Blogging’s a humbling venture. Sometimes it’s like sending a piece of my heart into cyberspace, and just trusting God to do whatever he wants with it. Sometimes it’s less than I hope; sometimes it’s far more. My husband reminds me that instead of numbers, I can look at the hours of worship God is hopefully generating. He’s continued to do more than I imagined even through a tough year.
But really, this is the part where I get to finally thank you, readers. So many of you, I don’t know–and yet you continue to care about these things along with me. Thanks for caring about the relationships that matter most, and for sharing these posts with people you care about. Here were the posts that resonated most with you this year.
The Broken Heart: On Leaving Africa: I’ve wondered for awhile now how I would write this post; what I would say. Eight hundred words seems only enough to barely outline the dimensions of what I’ve wrestled with for the last several months.
Ever feel like your heart’s two sizes too small for the Christmas season?
I may have recently given my radio the stinkeye for its heartfelt counsel for me to have a holly-jolly Christmas this year, when I really felt like sulking, washed down with a swig of wassail and one of those little chocolate-dipped pretzels with sprinkles.
Over your latte, I saw the concern in your eyes. I know this isn’t who you want to be; that you’re afraid of your own heart. But I know longing runs deep.
If only “I do” meant our eyes–or especially our spouse’s eyes, right?–never swiveled from our mate’s. But reality is, though marriage helps keep our attraction in one place, it doesn’t flip that switch for us.
Let me put it bluntly. Upon returning from Uganda and starting my own business as a freelancer, I was hoping for a little more…easy success. I was leaving such a good fit for the way I was made–my technicolor dream–at what felt like sacrifice. And I’ve been writing for so long. I just hoped there’d be a few more supernatural wins involved, you know? I admit to thinking of it a little formulaically: Obey God = Find “favor”.
Hmm. Favor. I mean, you could back that up with verses like “Anyone who comes to him must believe…he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” But as I type, I’m realizing I had a somewhat concrete vision of what that might look like.
Our kids are going to be under authority their entire lives. With the exception of a few horrid dictators of suffering countries, everyone on this planet is under authority of some kind. (Jesus is, too.) Offering our kids the gift of submission is one of those keys that opens doors for the rest of their lives.
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.