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A young man shot his mother and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary and shot the children in class. How do we talk to kids about such a senseless tragedy?

There’s no doubt about it.

Today was a bad day.

A young man shot his mother (a kindergarten teacher) and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary and shot the children in her class.

What makes this story especially challenging, is that the shooter targeted 5-year old children. We all understand the importance of protecting the innocence of children, especially young children. Today, the innocence of hundreds of children was destroyed, as they came face to face with evil.

My heart is broken for the parents who lost kids today. No parent should ever have to see his or her children die. My heart also aches for the kids who are still alive, that lost their childhood.

How do we move on from here? How do we talk to kids about such a senseless tragedy?

As a pastor my ministry is to parents and leaders in churches, so I am going to talk to both groups of people.

For Parents:

Children Under 7 years old…

  • If your children are under 7, do not say anything to them. Do not listen to the news with young children in the room. Protect their innocence. If they ask questions answer their questions in the simplest way possible.

Children 7 – 12 years of age
  • Grade School children are going to hear what happened from their friends at school. It’s best if they hear it from you first.
  • Tell your children simply and directly what happened. If this is too difficult, put on the news for ten minutes and then turn it off.
  • It’s likely the first concern that your son or daughter will have is for their own safety. Reassure them that the man that did this is gone. This will not be happening at their school.
  • Look up scriptures in the Bible that deal with fear. (1 John 4:4, 2 Timothy 1:7) Let them know that you get afraid sometimes and when you do you say these scriptures and you keep saying them until the fear goes away.
  • Love on your kids. Give them hugs. If they start to cry let them know it’s okay to cry, but if they don’t cry that’s okay. Don’t try to make them cry.
  • Keep your routines. Children thrive on consistency. If you have a hockey game or a birthday party to go to, then go to it. It’s okay to have fun and feel normal again. I strongly suggest that you send your kids to school on Monday. If they are afraid, pray with them and teach them to say the scriptures you taught them.
  • Pray for the families at Sandy Hook Elementary together.
Teenagers 13 – 18-years old

Listen more and lecture less. They may just want to talk to you. They may have some difficult questions. If you know the answer to their question, answer them. If you don’t know the answer just say so.

Here are the most frequent questions and how I answer them:

Why did this happen?
Answer: I don’t know.
Why did God let his happen?          
Answer: God had nothing to do with it.
Why didn’t God stop the shooter?           
Answer: God does not control us. He tells us the right thing to do, but He lets us make the choice to follow His will.

For Teachers and Leaders at Church
  • If you teach a pre-school class I would not say anything to the kids.
  • If you are teaching kids over seven, I suggest breaching the subject in the middle of class, possibly right after worship.
This is what I would do:
  •  Ask Questions.  Ask the kids in your class. “How many of you heard about the school shootings in Connecticut?”  (Allow for response.)
        “When you heard about it did it make you afraid?”
        “This is what I do when I feel afraid.”
  •  Quote Scriptures. Quote scriptures that deal with fear like 1 John 4:4 and 2 Timothy 1:7. (When you do this you become another voice in their life and reinforce Mom and Dad)
  •  Pray.  “I’d like us to pray for the parents who lost kids, and to pray for the kids at Shady Brook Elementary.” Ask for kids to come to the front and pray for the kids and their families. Once the first kid breaks the ice they will all want to pray. When you let the kids pray it gives them a sense of control.
  • Keep Your Classroom Routines. Don’t spend more than ten minutes on this subject. If you are teaching on Salvation this week, stick to you program. This will reinforce what their parents are doing and let them know that things are going to be okay.
  • Be Available. Let parents know that you are available if their kids just need somebody to talk to.
Keep praying for America!

“Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

Copyright ©  Mark Harper Ministries
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Author Biography

Mark Harper
Web site: Mark Harper Ministries
Pastor and Leadership Coach, Mark Harper has 35 years of experience in the local church. He is the creator of the Super Church 2.0 Curriculum, which is used in over 5,000 churches worldwide. The focus of Mark's ministry is helping leaders build strong churches and helping parents build strong families. Not only has Mark served in the local church as pastor, associate pastor, and family ministry pastor but he is also a certified coach with the John Maxwell Team. He also recently released the Amazon Best Selling book The Red Book: The Lifeblood of Children's Ministry.

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