How to Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy

This is a guest post from Debbie Fulthorp, an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. She has traveled to 27 countries sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Currently she does missions work with the Native American Fellowship and on the Gila River Reservation in Laveen, Arizona. She and her husband Brian have two children, ages three and five. You can learn more about their ministry at

After hearing about the unfathomable school shooting in Connecticut, I hugged my little boy tighter than ever.

“Mom, you’re hugging me too tight!” exclaimed my three-year-old. It made me wonder if I hug him enough. I worry I’m too harsh on him. Events like those of this week remind me that every moment we get with our children is a gift from the Lord.

Inevitably, he and my five-year-old daughter will hear the news of the shooting on the radio, from friends or from adults in passing.  My husband and I decided it’s important to talk to them before they hear it from anyone else. Especially with young children, it’s a delicate matter.

How can we, as Christian parents, address tragedy with our children? Here is what has helped us.

1)    Use age appropriate words. For young children, be sure to use terms that are accurate and understandable, but that won’t unduly frighten them.  For example, we explained: “A very bad man hurt a lot of children in a school this morning. Many of them died. Their families need our prayers.”

2)    Know the right time for discussion. Find a time for discussion when your kids will be most attentive so 1) they can understand the seriousness of the topic and 2) you can have the time necessary to discuss how to view such news as Christians. Family devotional time is ideal, if you have one. Allow enough time for prayer as well. When you pray, keep the focus on God’s love for those who are hurting rather than on the evil of what happened (John 14:16).

3)    Reiterate we can trust in Jesus. We might live in a world where evil happens, but we can trust in Jesus for our hope and our salvation (1 Peter 1:3).

4)    Don’t offer false hope. Saying things like “this will never happen to you” only offers false hope and an inaccurate view of the world. As painful as it is, we can only protect our children so much. We must entrust them to the care of the Lord. What we can say is this: God is always and will always be with them.

5)    Read them a narrative story from the Bible showing God’s sovereignty. One story I am finding most appropriate during this season is Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-19). Jesus was born in very dark times, but He is the light and the hope for the world.

6)    Point them to Jesus. We often assume that because we are Christians and go to church, our children have a relationship with the Lord as well. They need to grow and cultivate their own relationship with Him, however. We can use difficult times like this to talk to our kids about the importance of having Jesus in their heart no matter what circumstances surround them.

I have found that the tighter I try to hold on to my children, the more I lose them. I am still responsible for their care, but in those times when things are out of my control, I must place my trust in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 10:26 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” This verse brings me comfort because “everything” includes my children.

We mourn with those who mourn, but we do not mourn without hope. We trust and believe that God will work through this senseless situation because He is sovereign, and because He is good.

How have you addressed this tragedy with your kids?

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