When processing current events, adults sometimes forget that their children are listening, too. Children hear the news snippets and our conversations, they perceive our facial expressions and body language, and they are aware of so much more that happens in their environments than they get credit for.
But children’s ministers know this, don’t we? We see the effects of the news on the children in our care. Sometimes, that looks like uncharacteristic behaviors (crying, tantrums, clinginess). Other times, we hear it played out in pretend play. And then, there’s the questions! Even a person who’s been working with kids for a long time can attest to the fact that children are great at asking questions that can leave us feeling uncomfortable, unprepared, and awkward. Nonetheless, these are important conversations to have—especially for those children who are being directly affected by what’s happening in the world around them.
When it comes to kids’ tough questions, the first thing to remember is that your job as the adult is to help a child feel safe and loved. The answers themselves can be a challenge, for sure—there are many things to consider: Is your reply age appropriate? How will the child’s parent or guardian feel about your approach? What about the other children who are listening? With all the ways it could go wrong, the temptation may be to just shut the conversation down.
But silence has its own side effects. When we choose not to answer a child, they are left to try to figure out the situation in their own mind—and this can be scary. Fred Rogers once famously said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
In our efforts to help children feel at peace, another temptation may be to offer artificial comfort. It’s essential that we be careful not to lie or offer false reassurances. We can’t tell children that something that they’ve seen happen on TV won’t happen to them—we don’t know that for sure. But we can provide a safe place to talk about their worries, give factual information in an age-appropriate way, and offer reassurance that the adults in their lives will do all they can to protect them.
Sometimes, well-meaning adults will try to minimize an issue like violence or discrimination—but this isn’t helpful either. Remember that the children in your care may already have firsthand experiences of those things—so their fears may be very real. When we try to put a positive twist on every issue, we may be inadvertently sending a covert message to our kiddos that we don’t believe or understand their lived experiences.
Perhaps the most important step is to process difficult current events yourself. The Bible reminds us that "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). When we take the time to pray, meditate, and discuss how we feel about what's happening in our world, we are much more prepared to help the children in our care do the same. The peace, compassion, and love that we gain from God will be reflected in our responses, and the children in our care will benefit when our hearts are in tune with God's.