Monday, December 3, 2012

Four Ways to Help Children through a Crisis

Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me. – Psalm 50:15

Divorce is a crisis, no doubt about it. Other crises that might confront our children include the death of a parent, a diagnosis of a serious disease, natural disasters, and more. Even the death of a pet can rock a child’s world, threatening his basic need for security.

Troubles come, but a mom who depends on God is well equipped to lead her children through life’s storms. Here are four essentials to helping your children through a crisis.

Keep the Faith
Children need the stability of a parent who looks to God. That doesn’t mean you must have all the answers or remain perfectly serene. On the contrary; a strong faith asks the hard questions, wrestling with God through the dark night. It is OK to twist in the wind for a while. Be real with your children, acknowledging that you don’t understand why things have happened this way, and looking to God to bring you through. Real life and real faith are messy. It’s OK for your children to see that. Continue in prayer, read God’s Word, don’t give up church attendance. These simple actions demonstrate that you believe God can be trusted, no matter what’s going on.

Keep the Home Fires Burning
As much as possible, keep the same routine for your children. Be sensitive to their need to process, but not to the point of throwing order to the wind. Children thrive on routine, and during crises it’s important to require the usual chores, apply the usual discipline, and enjoy the usual family fun as much as you can. Even if all the externals have been swept away, expecting the usual respect and adherence to family rules reassures children that the world is going on and things will return to normal – even if it’s a new normal.

Keep Open Books
The big temptation is to tell our children that everything’s going to be fine. We can even appeal to "faith" in our reasoning, which compounds the problem. The truth is, everything may not be fine, at least in terms of what our children want. Faith does not guarantee the outcome we want; it gives us hope in our present reality.

Always be honest with children. They need to be able to trust you. Of course, you will want to be careful not to share more information than your children can handle, sparing them the gory details. Knowing how much to say can be difficult, but I’ve experienced God’s faithfulness repeatedly in this area. Pray, trust God, and then answer your child’s difficult questions honestly and gently.

Keep a Listening Heart
It’s also tempting to try to talk our children out of their feelings. When children express their pain, they don’t necessarily need answers or solutions. Of course we want to help them feel better; but explaining why the situation isn’t so bad, or will work out, or will resolve itself, is pretty useless to a hurting child.

Children need a container for their painful feelings. Be that container. They simply need to be heard, and to know they’re understood. Allow them to talk about the crisis whenever they want to. Don’t pry it out of them; but be ready when they are. Reflect back what they’ve said. Express empathy. “So, you’re feeling scared because Daddy’s gone? That must be hard! I felt scared like that once, too.” Then listen, in case there’s more.

One of my children was two when his father left. He didn’t even have words to express how he felt, and I could see he was struggling with anger. My simple inquiry – “Do you feel like throwing things?” – had a transforming effect. My son stared at me, clearly astonished that someone else was grasping what he felt. I didn’t have to say much more; the simple knowledge that he wasn’t alone with his feelings was a turning point for my son.

Crises can throw parenting into a whole new level of difficulty; but in Christ we have everything we need to bring our children safely through. Trust me – I’ve lived it.

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