Teachable Tragedy- How to Talk About Events Like the Tucson Shooting with Your Kids

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Teachable Tragedy- How to Talk About Events Like the Tucson Shooting with Your Kids

As fellow Arizonans at Family Matters, we feel raw sadness for our neighbors in Tucson. The family and friends of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Judge John Roll, and all the other victims of Saturday’s attack are in our constant prayers. May God comfort their hearts. Saturday January 8th 2011 will be remembered as a day when the very heart of this great democracy was taken under siege. When someone fires upon an elected official, they are firing upon freedom. What a shame that the gunman didn’t stop there. One cannot make sense of the mind of a madman. This was not the first murderous tragedy in recent memory and it won’t be the last. If you were alive at the time, you remember where you were when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I was a senior in high school during the massacre of Columbine, and I remember how deeply it impacted me. I felt deep sadness and grief. We all remember learning about the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We remember our horror, disbelief, pain and rage. How we respond as Christian citizens to tragic events can have a resounding impact in our culture, but how we talk through tragedy with our kids can either teach faith and character or invite fear and anger. As parents we are the mayors of our homes and it’s our job to respond to the questions, confusion and pain that our kids may have. Here is a list of some things to keep in mind as you talk through this event with your kids. There’s no way for this list to be exhaustive. I’d love for our readers to comment with more ideas. 1.)    Pray– I know this seems obvious, but the first thing our kids ought to see us do is call upon the power of the Holy Spirit. We have nothing to offer the situation. We have no answers, no words, no power…But He does. Faith under fire is how our kids evaluate what we really believe. We ought to pray out loud. It’s OK to say things like, “I don’t understand this Lord. I’m really sad and angry.” 2.)    Talk– This entire article assumes that we are talking through these events as a family, but that’s not a given. It’s tempting, especially with young children, to try to completely shield them from seeing the news or hearing radio broadcasts, but we may end up doing more damage if we try to keep the truth from them. Often as parents we put our effort into trying to control the exterior forces that we see as a threat to our kids rather than doing everything that we can to bolster the interior forces that ultimately safeguard them from whatever life dishes out. That internal strength cannot be programmed into our children without open lines of communication. Encourage them to ask questions, express their emotions or simply process the event quietly. Only report the facts. Kids first need to understand the facts of a situation so that they can process it before everything becomes clouded with adult opinion and commentary. Depending on their age or personality, they might not seem to have any thoughts or feelings about the event, but remember to tell them that they can always come to you if they want to talk about it later. Tragedy and grief come in stages, and children deal with these stages differently. 3.)    Renounce Evil– Murderers are evil. Yes, there are elements of mental illness in almost every case of mass murder, but it’s critical that kids see that adults recognize and are willing to fight evil. It gives them a sense of security and hope that we are not going to go quietly into the night that Satan so desperately wants us to succumb to. 4.)    Recognize Character– Amidst tragedy there are many examples of character. One that my family is talking a lot about is courage. As a proud Arizonan, it did not surprise me that several private citizens were the ones that tackled, subdued and disarmed the gunman, not Secret Service or law enforcement. We are a gritty and fearless people here in the Southwest. A young man, (who ran out of the Walgreens next door toward the shooting,) a retired Marine, and an elderly woman thought nothing of their own safety and best interest and did what needed to be done to fight evil. Another young man ran towards the wounded Congresswoman to administer first aid despite the fact that it put him just feet from the shooter. A pastor, Dorwin Stoddard, died because he threw his body over his wife’s to shield her. Were they afraid? Probably terrified. They took action anyway. This is a great opportunity to explain to our kids that courage isn’t the absence of fear. As John Wayne said so eloquently, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” I’m sure that you and your family can find many other character lessons in this tragedy. 5.)    Administer Grace– Matthew 5:44- “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Here is the one that’s toughest for me. It goes against every instinct I have. But living the Christian life is all about going against our nature. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. How does this command play out in a situation like this? All I can come up with is that we ought to at least pray for the perpetrator. I’m not suggesting that justice be circumvented. My fleshly response is that I would love to see him burn in Hell for what he did. But that is not how we are called to respond as Christians. He must pay the earthly price for what he did, but we are still to pray that he turn his eternal soul over to Christ. A gracious response of prayer on behalf of an evil human being is what sets us apart as Christians. After all, God’s saving grace is all Jared Lee Loughner has left on which to stand. How are you talking to your kids about the tragedy? Please tell us in the comments.

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