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.
See more in this post I wrote after my family’s robbery in Uganda, on raising our kids to crave true safety.
- 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.
Like this post? You might like
- Cry: The Hidden Art of Christian Grieving
- On Keeping Your Heart Soft When Times are Tough
- 11 Ideas to More Emotionally-Whole and -Healthy Parenting
- How We’re Gaining Control of Screen Time, Step-by-Step