helping our children through trauma

The tragedy in Connecticut is not something that made headlines here in Tanzania.  We didn’t hear about it on the radio or see it on our televisions.  I’m sure it’s all over internet news sites which we do see here (I scan the world news every couple of days — but generally once I’ve read a report on a particular subject, I rarely return to read more on that subject*).  So we’ve not read a great deal about the shootings in Newtown.

[Don’t worry, though.  This is not going to be one of those posts in which an expat living abroad points fingers at all the Americans who are upset about a handful of people dying in the land of plenty — while thousands die every day at the hands of malaria and corrupt regimes where we are.]

What I am getting at is that while I’ve not read a great deal about the shootings themselves, I have read massive numbers of bloggers on the subject.  Many were quite political, making the tragedy which occurred seem as a stepping off point for the anti- and pro- gun agendas, a springboard for discussions on the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill, and a grounds on which to base arguments for or against Calvinism (or Christianity in general).  [I am not against these discussions — I rather enjoy them, actually.  But I’m not sure it seems the time (the place, yes, but perhaps not the time).]

I do want to offer you, though, two written pieces that came out of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  Neither is an attempt at politicizing what happened and both are hugely practical.


Nathan Jernigan is a Christian licensed psychotherapist who is a member of my sending congregation, Stones River Church, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Nathan thoughtfully wrote an email to the entire congregation helping us understand how we might better walk our children through this tragedy and others.  With his permission, I am reposting his thoughts here on aliens and strangers.

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has all of us reeling. Mind boggling, horrifying and surreal, such a thing seems unthinkable. One concern for many parents is how to communicate about this to kids. Here are some tips.

Go ahead and talk to them about it.

Often, a first choice is to simply attempt to shield our children completely from the terrible things that happen in the world. Though this idea may feel very good, it usually is not practical and often not possible. It is almost a certainty that your child will overhear a conversation, hear a news blurb on the TV or radio or have a classmate talk to them about it. It would be better coming from you. Contrary to what many people believe, talk does not perpetuate anxiety – it helps to reduce it.

When you talk to them tell them the truth.

This part is even more difficult for parents. Do not sugarcoat it. In an age appropriate way, avoiding the gory details when possible, tell them the whole story. School age children will likely hear any part you leave out somewhere else and then be less likely to trust you as their source. Younger kids know when we leave out parts of a story. They think sequentially. Stories need a beginning, middle and end. When part of a story is missing, kids tend to imagine the missing part as worse than what actually happened (as impossible as this may seem). Leaving scary parts out tends to frighten them more by how they fill in the blanks. 

Do not make this a onetime conversation.

Like telling our pre-teens about sex, lots of parents prefer a talk that happens once and is never to be brought up again. This will not work well. They will digest this information gradually. They will have questions randomly and at odd times. Be prepared to have multiple conversations and remember it is okay for parents not to know everything or have all the answers. 

Let them know they are loved and valuable.

Remember, meaningful touch helps to dispel fear. So, hold a hand, stroke their hair, let them sit in your lap, kiss them, wrap your arms around them. Be present emotionally. Listen. Listen. Listen. Tell them you love them and that their Creator loves them even more. 

Be available.

Certainly, this has already been implied. This is a time where your presence is huge. Your availability allows them to ask their questions. Always be ready to listen. As a general rule, the more they talk about it, the better they are dealing with it.

Talk about God’s love.

Remind them of God’s promises for them. Pray for and with them. Let them hear you praying about this. Remind them that not everyone in the world is bad. Tell them they are safe. Tell them God loves us and is close to us. Model your own belief in God’s love. Perhaps you need to be reminded of this yourself because your moods, thoughts and actions directly influence theirs. Kids tend to absorb us. The truth of God’s love flows through you to them. Remind your children that God still runs the universe and that these beautiful children who were slain are in Heaven with Him.

Limit the amount of news programming your child is exposed to.

Base this on their level of maturity and sensitivity. Young children do not need to see this on the news at all. Again, they will most assuredly hear about it and the factual information would be better coming from you. Do not get sloppy and leave a TV on. By the way, persons of all ages need to limit the amount of time they spend watching news of this. And remember, kids are different, they mature at different levels. What is best for one may not be best for another of the same age.  

Bottom line.

Be present and involved with your kids especially in moments like these. 

— Nathan Jernigan

[On another day, I’d like to share some of my own thoughts on kids dealing with tough situations (which we might qualify as only being appropriate for adults).  This is because I know my daughters — living in Tanzania — witness some situations (eg. death) from which many children in the states are sheltered.  But these thoughts will come on another day.]


The other piece I’m glad I read last week came from Fat Cyclist, and it’s simply titled Loss.” Fatty is not a licensed psycotherapist.  And he’s largely unqualified to write on the subjects of school shootings, gun control, and government intervention in mental healthcare.  But he has experienced loss and so shared what was useful to him as he dealt with, and processed through, it.

* Exception: Auburn football.



1 Comment

Filed under family, guest posts, practical advice

One response to “helping our children through trauma

  1. Pingback: children processing death | aliens and strangers

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