Traumatic Events and Children's Ministry
I noticed my son calling the other day and like any good mother I ignored the call. Don’t look at me like that. Besides, it was “me” time and all things considered I knew he was in good hands. Both of them were. God had smiled upon the Moreno household and both of our children were to be away for the next 30 days at camp grandma’s house! In hindsight, had I known why he was calling at the time, I would have picked up the phone. Later in the afternoon our conversation went somewhat like this…
My 8 year old: “Mom!”
Me: “Hi Honey!”
My 8 year old: “Are you okay mommy!?
Me: “Yes?” (a little bewildered to his passionate reaction)
My 8 year old: “Why didn’t you pick up the phone earlier!?”
Me: “Mommy was on her prayer walk.”
My 8 year old: “When you didn’t pick up I was scared. The TV showed all the people who died at the school and I thought maybe someone had hurt you when you didn’t pick up the phone. What if someone hurt you and I had to live at grandma’s forever! What if someone tries to hurt me?”
My heart immediately sank as I tried to reaffirm my little boy that I was okay and that nothing was going to happen to him or me. My first thought was… what on earth is grandma letting them watch over there. But then reality sunk in. Guy and I have never been successful at keeping our kids away from major world events we thought they couldn’t handle. We’ve learned two major things through it all. (1) Our kids can handle more than we think they can, and (2) We much rather prefer being available to walk alongside them as they navigate their emotions through open conversation than to allow the enemy to do it in isolation.
The truth is, the tragedy in Uvalde ripped my heart in two but I knew this was a traumatic event that shouldn’t be swept under the rug. As much as I wanted to protect them from the fear such an event had the potential to instill in them, especially one dealing with children their age, I knew we had to have the conversation. We talked about living in a broken world, hate, and gun violence. We talked about what to do in the event an active shooter enters their school. We reminded them about a very real God who walks with them and loves them very much. We discussed how it’s okay to be afraid but how God would want them to respond to fear. We also encouraged them to pray for the loved ones of the precious lives lost in Uvalde while reminding them of the hope of heaven. Was it an easy conversation? NO! Is there a pit in my stomach just thinking about it? YES! Was it ultimately necessary? ABSOLUTELY!
Listen, I know that it’s hard but as parents we must move past the fear, trust God, and be willing to have the tough conversations with our children. God calls us to lean into the hard conversations but he never called us to do it alone. As Children’s Ministry leaders, we must become better at walking alongside parents from both a spiritual and practical perspective to help equip them with the confidence to talk about the hard stuff with their kids. If we are truly going to build a generation of spiritual champions, then the church and the home have to stop operating as separate entities but must strengthen their efforts by working together. I believe there needs to be a radical shift from children’s ministries solely looking for how parents can support them in their programming efforts to children’s ministries looking for ways they can support the parents in everyday life as they raise their children. I guess this blog post poses two pertinent questions…
1. If you’re a parent, how are you engaging with your kids when it comes to tragic events?
2. If you’re a Children’s Ministry leader, how are you actively supporting parents when it comes to addressing “The Hard Stuff?”
Here are a few tips that will hopefully help us all…
1. When talking about traumatic events with children, Keep your cool - This doesn’t mean you shut off emotionally and become plastic. Remember, kids look to grownups for reassurance. Your anxiety will only feed theirs. Listen, acknowledge their feelings, and help assure them with any anxieties they may have without sharing your own.
2. Be brief but honest! - Try to answer any questions they may have while being comfortable giving the answer, “I don’t know.” Kids are looking for support, not experts.
3. Turn off the news - Let’s be honest…if the news can be downright scary and depressing for grownups how do you think it makes children feel?
4. Filter the event through the eyes of scripture - Remind your children that there is evil in this world but that God is a God of justice, mercy, and that even though bad things happen, we don’t have to walk in fear when God is on our side.
5. Encourage kids to engage in fun activities - Fun gives kids a sense of normalcy and helps to take their minds off of things they may be worried about.
6. Use Social Media - As a Children's Ministry leader, don't sleep on the power of social media. Consider using social media as a way to communicate, connect with, and support busy parents when it comes to leaning into these tough conversations with their children at home.
It’s easy to overlook the impact that these traumatic events can have on the hearts of our children. Unlike spooky movies that can be easily dismissed as fictional, we cannot as easily rationalize the tragic lost and potential trauma that events like Uvalde can trigger in the minds of our little ones. As the body of Christ, we must realize that our children are not immune to the pain and trauma stemming from these events. As such we must be prepared to boldly address them with a biblical framework so that our children will be empowered to interpret these tragedies, though they be hard, through a godly perspective.
I am happy to report that although the conversation was uncomfortable, I remain grateful that my son opened this door so that we could take advantage of this opportunity to deepen our faith together through this painful event. Please continue to keep Uvalde in your prayers. If you would like to support those affected by the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, see the link below for verified fundraisers.