Talking with Children During A Crisis

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I think what we have learnt in the last week, is that the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to be the last crisis we will face in our lifetime. It is hard to believe what is unfolding in the world at the moment…locally and globally. The extensive media coverage that has become so prevalent in our world means that the circle of witnesses has expanded to include even those who were not present at the event. The 24-hour news coverage results in graphic and immediate images of major national or world calamities being broadcast into our homes. It is becoming more and more difficult to prevent children from experiencing such disasters indirectly and vicariously through the media.

I am often asked by parents, what do I tell my child when a crisis unfolds? I often say that it’s likely kids will hear about a crisis in the media or from their friends, so be the first to give them a truthful account of the facts. Your honesty will create trust and guards against the fear-mongering that sometimes accompanies a crisis. Jesus himself never held back the truth to protect people, even when the truth was messy or uncomfortable. He told His disciples that He would die. Jesus was never mean or cold when delivering hard news, but He also never shied away from truth. It’s absolutely normal to feel sad, scared, and angry following a crisis, particularly when it hits close to home. Children learn how to handle emotions by watching their adults, so model for them a right response of grief and sadness. But also make it clear that those powerful emotions don’t have to lead to fear and panic.

We remind our children that events like what is unfolding in Ukraine or the flooding crisis in south-east QLD are not common, and there are many people in our world who are working every day to help those people in a crisis. But unfortunately, brokenness is a reality in our world. Death, pain, and suffering can happen to anyone, anywhere. This week, we did what we do best in our Catholic school…we prayed. I wish I could have captured just how beautiful and heartfelt our students were on Monday morning. Prayer gives us a way to channel our emotions in a healthy way. Ask God for healing, help and comfort for the victims, their families, and their friends. We also look for the miracle in our midst at every moment.

Our students have learned gratitude, and we can be very grateful for the wonderful miracles in our everyday lives. Finally, I often find that a crisis can be a teachable moment for our students. We can provide facts, in line with a child’s age and level of understanding. We keep answers to children’s questions simple and age-appropriate. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have certainly learnt a few things from working with children during a time of crisis. Whether it be destruction, flooding or loss of a loved one, I have learnt that gentle honesty is always key. As adults, we can certainly find any crisis confronting, but our children not so much. They have been coached in resilience and they practice it. Extraordinary times present many challenges, but they also afford opportunities for learning and growth.

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