This article is written to be a resource for how to talk with our kids about tragedies such as kidnapping or others that they may hear about in their lives. If you would like to gain some insight into how to talk best with your children about death, here is our video series on that subject.
Whenever kids hear about a tragedy like an amber alert, they are going to have questions. Lots of questions. Possibly a lot of fear as well. It is easy for us as parents to not be sure exactly what to say. We want to keep them safe, but we also want them to feel safe. We want to teach our children how to handle sadness and fear well.
Those good desires can turn into a lot of pressure, and even tempt us to avoid talking with our kids about these uncomfortable issues altogether. But here is the thing — it is better to have the hard conversations with our children than not to have them at all, even if we do it poorly. We may stutter or stumble or say something that we have to go back and rephrase, but even so we are teaching our kids the invaluable lesson that in our family it’s okay to discuss hard subjects. Whether it is talking with your kids about bullying, or sex, or death – In this family, there is safety. In this family, we are here for you when tough times come.
This is a great lesson our kids can carry with them throughout their lives. So it is okay to make a mistake in your conversation, and our children will still gain insight and trust through the conversations we have.
With that being said, here are a few pointers for how to talk with our kids about tragedy:
Usually as parents we want to have all the answers and thoroughly explain any given situation. We tend to over-do it. A helpful rule of thumb is that shorter is better, because we want our kids’ attention to last through the whole conversation. Even simply saying, “Earlier this week there was a little girl near Tyler that disappeared, and people believe she was kidnapped. Police are looking hard to try to find her” may be all you need to say for this point.
For younger children you may need to explain what kidnapping is, and a short sentence or two such as “kidnapping is when someone takes a child from their parents” is probably all you will need to say.
When tragedies happen it shows us our frailty. It makes us feel vulnerable and scared. Even when a tragedy does not impact us directly, we feel the strong desire to stay in our homes and make 100% sure that the same tragedy does not happen to us. This is perfectly normal, but it is an overreaction, and not what is best for our children.
With children, we want them to know that they are as safe today as they were last week. We may feel less safe than we did before, but the degree of safety has not changed. And we cannot live in fear. A good passage for kids to memorize about this is Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (NIV). For many kids, these couple sentences will be all they need on this subject. However if your child experiences fear frequently, it would be worthwhile to review our articles on anxiety and other emotions.
I love it when parents share with their kids how they as parents regularly keep kids safe. It is amazing how often a child is completely unaware of what their parents are doing for them, and how comforting this new knowledge is! Remind your child that a role of a mom and dad is to protect and tell them a little bit about how you work hard to keep them safe.
For example, my son had bad dreams when he was little, and I sat him down and told him about how I lock the doors of our house and peak into his room to make sure he is safe. He felt so relieved, and soon after the nightmares disappeared too (which was a fun bonus!).
Children can do a lot to keep themselves safe too. Whether it is using the buddy system or looking both ways before they cross the street – it is empowering for a child to have a few new mental tools to use in their toolkit for a potential kidnapping situation. There are so many great articles out there on safety tips for kids, but here is a particularly great one on teaching children how to handle a stranger. These tips for your children will most likely need to be spread out over a couple conversations, so don’t feel like you need to cover it all at once.
Lastly, pray with your children. Thank God for the safety He gives us every day, and pray for those that are hurting and grieving. Thank God for those who helped search for her, and pray for your family to love others well during this tragic time.
If you have other questions or comments, feel free to reach out to us. We love getting feedback from our readers.
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I believe we all need a safe place to explore the issues that may be preventing us from experiencing a full and satisfying life. My greatest reward as a therapist is helping my clients examine ways to make the changes in their lives that will allow them to look forward to the future with hope. I am a bilingual (Spanish-English) LPC.
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