How to Help Children After a Crisis
In times of crisis, more than anything else, children need our love. They need to know they are loved, not with a showering of gifts but in a physical way. Hug them. Hold them. Let them know you are there for them. Assure them of their own safety, but avoid being overprotective, which may encourage more fear. Whatever you do, don’t ignore them. Don’t think they don’t know what’s going on, and don’t pretend that they are too young to have feelings about the event. Acknowledge them and their fears and help them learn to cope in a world that is often very unpredictable and scary to children as well as adults.
Expression and Conversation
Keep the lines of communication open. Select pictures in a book or ask the children to draw pictures to express feelings. Then talk about the pictures. Take the lead from the child as to how much they need to talk about and know about the situation. Keep answers to questions simple, giving only what is needed. Listen to comments of children as they play. Are there clues here that need further conversation?
Children may have trouble distinguishing between TV shows that blow up buildings, shooter video games or superhero movies, and the factual news reports of a tragic event. Explain, "Yes, this really did happen. It is a sad time, but we will come through it with God’s help."
Provide opportunities for children to express their feelings. Use toys, puppets, books, music, water play, play dough, painting, and puzzles (creating order out of chaos). Let children know that you have some of the same feelings they have. Be honest about your feelings, but temper them with recognition that God loves even those who have harmed someone. God doesn’t like their actions, but God continues to love.
Two main questions children are likely to think about, whether they actually ask them or not, are: “Could this happen to me or to someone I love?” and “Why does God make/allow this to happen?” Remember that a young child cannot understand, “We just have to trust in God.” They trust in parents, and parents are supposed to protect them. So, while the answers are never easy, again try to keep them simple. “We don’t expect this to ever happen to you or anyone you love. You are always loved and have a loving circle of family and friends.” “We don’t believe that God made this happen. People sometimes choose to do bad things.” (see Will of God below for more detailed answers)
Prayer and Quiet Time
Pray for those injured, those whose family members were injured or killed, those who are making decisions or helping others, and also those who planned and carried out any injustice. Keep prayers simple, simply talking to God. It’s OK to tell God about your feelings too. Children may want to write out prayers as if writing a letter to God or draw a picture for God. Let them even express anger to God. God is big enough to take our anger and still love.
Remember in the confusion and sadness after a crisis, children and adults alike need quiet time to reflect and regain their emotional and physical strength. They need to know that God loves with a happy heart and with a sad heart. During a crisis God loves with a sad heart. We don’t understand why things happened. We will never understand why bad things happen, but we do know that God is sad, not only sad for those who are hurt or killed and their families, but also for those who did bad things. God wanted them to be happy people who loved others, but something went wrong. God’s will Older children can understand the concept of the three wills of God.
- God’s Original Will – that we choose to live together peacefully, loving and caring for each other.
- God’s Circumstantial Will – A part of that original will is that we all have our own free will. We are free to choose things that will be helpful to others and things that will be hurtful to others. Sometimes people choose to do things that are very hurtful to others.
- God’s Ultimate Will – If we allow God to work through us, we can become stronger people because of the circumstances that did happen, and we will have a stronger faith (or relationship with God) because we have lived through this.
Dealing with Death
During a time of crisis, children are often faced with the reality of death, even the possibility of their own deaths. When talking about death with young children, play the game, “What’s the Really, Really Me?” Touch a part of the child’s body, such as his nose, and say, “Is this the part of you that makes you cry when you are sad or makes you laugh when you are happy?” Then do the same with other parts of the body. Finally say, “We can’t see the part of us that makes us cry when we are sad or laugh when we are happy. That part of us is on the inside, and it is the part that doesn’t die when the body dies. We sometimes call this our soul.”
Routine and Preoccupation
A routine schedule helps settle us. Whenever possible, stay on a normal schedule even during or after times of crisis. Maintaining routines can be an anchor to help the child realize that life can and will go on.
However, during a crisis, we are often so preoccupied with news of the event that we don’t realize how overpowering our conversations and the continuing media coverage can be for a child. When children need something to get their minds off the crisis, consider a mission project. Thinking about others is cathartic even for adults. Some ideas include:
- Supplying a meal or baked goodie for someone
- Adopting a room or flower bed at church to work on
- Planting a tree or caring for the yard of an older person
- Praying for or writing a letter to a missionary.
While we can never explain away the unexplainable or make sense of the senseless, we need to be there for our children in tangible ways. Remind them again and again of your love for them and of God’s unfailing love for them as well.
This article was used by permission. Some of the information in this article has been adapted from The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead.