Thankfully, all of these traumatic events – the shootings in California, the bombing in Paris, the church shootings in South Carolina – have been far away from the rest of us. Although we hurt for those who must personally deal with the loss and pain these senseless tragedies have caused, we breath a little sigh of relief that the trauma of those events cannot touch us.
But don’t get too comfortable.
Studies reveal that our brains cannot always distinguish the real from the imagined. That explains why movies scare you to death – even though you know the action is not real.
How many times have the news channels replayed video clips of bombings and shootings? How many times have your children watched a weeping parent describe how her son or daughter was killed at church?
Most adults will admit that they are more aware of where intruders can hide in their churches than they were a few months ago. If they are thinking about it, no doubt their children are, was well. The only difference is children are usually less likely to talk about it than grown-ups are.
The truth is – tragedy does affect us all in varying degrees. While you may be able to process your fear, the children in your house may not be. If they suddenly do not enjoy church, or frequently get sick at school, it could be that those are expressions of the fears they cannot express.
What you must keep in mind when working with children is that you do not want to create fear where none exists. Sometimes, kids really are sick. Sometimes, they simply don’t want to go to church, and it has nothing to do with being afraid because of what they have seen or heard.
So, how do you find out what they are really thinking?
Choose a carefree time where everyone is feeling good, and where both you and your child can speak without anyone overhearing. Then ask your child, “What is the one thing you are most afraid of, or are afraid will happen?” Take your child’s answer seriously. Don’t minimize or laugh at what they say regardless of how unfounded you feel their fears are. They must trust you in order to share their deep secrets. So don’t minimize or share what they tell you.
Watch your child when you drop them off at school or when they enter the church. Do they race to join their friends, or do they hesitate and carefully look around? Hesitating or being unusually careful might indicate that they are thinking and feeling things they haven’t verbalized. Using the same tactic mentioned in the paragraph above, see what a discussion reveals.
Be cautious. The last thing you want to do is bring emotional harm to someone – especially a child – who is experiencing none. But if you suspect your child is troubled, carefully see if they will discuss it with you.
If you find that your child is troubled, try to reassure them without lying to them. You can’t promise that nothing bad will ever happen in your community, but you can point out that you and other adults are constantly watching out for them. Teach them how to respond if they think something is not right. Let them know that you are always willing to talk with them, and to help them when they feel frightened. Have them tell you what would make them feel more secure and directly address those specifics.
Kids aren’t the only ones who can be traumatized by events they’ve read or heard about. Adults and teens are also susceptible. So don’t feel like you or your friends are going crazy or are being childish if you struggle with fears and insecurities caused by these horrible acts. Traumatic splash-over is common – much more than people realize.
Every church ought to have a crisis support ministry team. If your congregation is close enough to hear about, read about, or watch video of bad things happening to people, than it is possible for them to experience trauma related to those events. Most of the time, they will deal with it on their own. But sometimes, they could use a little help.
Providing that help is our mission. If you have questions or want to know more about how we can help, please use the comments or email us directly. Let us help you keep hope flowing!
***this website is being “remodeled.” For the time being, please use the following email to contact CrisisChaplain.us. Thank you!