We can’t shield our children from the realities of life in our broken world but we can teach kids to respond to disaster with a love that heals and a hope that carries on.
I was my daughter’s age when hurricane Gloria hit Long Island. I can remember my Dad putting duct tape on the windows in case they shattered from the wind. My young mind couldn’t imagine a force so strong it might destroy our home; our safe place.
I have vivid memories of my Uncle pulling my Aunt away from their home which would have been in the direct path of the storm. She was safer with us but she didn’t want to leave her own safe haven.
We weathered that storm pretty well. No great damage, no flooding and no injuries (at least in our family). But we were left without electricity for a week which meant no school and Monopoly by candlelight with the neighbors.
Hurricane Gloria was my first natural disaster. I don’t remember too much about the aftermath. But I know my parents were involved with helping those who were affected by the storm.
My parents’ commitment to help those in need was a part of our family DNA. So when hurricane Andrew devastated our new home of Miami just 7 years later, our whole family participated in community restoration efforts.
My daughter was just a toddler when a flood covered our hometown of Nashville in 2010. She was too young to know what was going on or be a part of the clean up. But today she’s nine and she (along with my six year old son) is old enough to understand what is happening to our friends in Houston, Texas this week as hurricane Harvey creates flooding unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime.
I’ve been praying about how to share with my children about the Houston Flood and how to encourage them to respond when disaster hits those we know and those we don’t. We can’t shield our children from the realities of life in our broken world but we can teach our kids to respond to disaster with a love that heals and a hope that carries on.
How to Teach Kids to Respond to Disaster
Compassion is the driving force of any response to disaster, tragedy, sickness and loss. It is a character trait our kids are either naturally born with or can develop with our guidance.
Think about the nature of your child. Does she feel deeply about the needs of others? Does his heart seem tender when he discovers someone is sad or experiencing difficulty? Or does your child act distant, even cold or aloof when face to face with emotions?
Our children were made beautifully unique. Just because a child isn’t naturally compassionate doesn’t mean he or she cannot become more tuned in to the needs of others through practice. Real world events can be a catalyst for cultivating compassion in the hearts of our kids so as they grow, they become more and more sensitive when others experience life’s inevitable difficulties.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion. . . Colossians 3:12 NIV
Teach Your Child to Respond to Disaster with Compassion:
- Share about current events and disasters at an age appropriate level. You’ll know what your child can handle at each stage.
- Invite your child to ask questions and then ask them a few to keep the conversation going and to stir their heart on the matter.
- Pray! Nothing moves our hearts to respond to brokenness like prayer. After your child is made aware of a devastating situation – a natural disaster like the Houston flood, a loss, a friend or family member’s illness – spend time regularly praying over the situation which will not only connect their heart to the needs of others but will develop their heart of compassion as well.
Love that is rooted in God takes action. The Bible tells us to not only love with our words but with the work of our hands, the sacrifice of our time; our actions.
When I sat my daughter down and told her about the flood while looking at photos of the devastation, she immediately asked if we could raise money to help the people of Houston. Your child may have a similar response, compelled to spring to action by doing or creating something to help friends and strangers.
If your child doesn’t immediately feel the need to help, this is a great opportunity to cultivate an active heart. Our response doesn’t have to be extravagant. Simple actions of service and care that meet the emergent needs of others will teach our kids how to be a responder when trials arise, both big and small.
Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 1 John 3:18 NLT
Teach Your Child to Respond to Disaster with Action:
- Look for ways to do something to help or bless those affected by disaster or loss. If you don’t live near the event, connect with a ministry or organization that can tell you what is needed. Start with the American Red Cross or a local church.
- Get creative but be practical. Get the kids involved in coming up with ideas but make sure the idea is doable and will be helpful to the recipient (not create more work or be a burden). Keep it simple!
- Take your time and follow through. It’s easy to look at compassionate action as something to be checked off a to-do list. But our kids need to see us giving of our time to help others. Observing our commitment and sacrifice plants seeds that will grow in their own servant hearts.
- Pray! Ask God to reveal ways you can take action to be his hands and feet to those in need during a difficult time. Pray together and ask him to show you specific ways your family can be a blessing. This will teach kids that we all have a unique role to play in loving and serving others and to trust the Holy Spirit to reveal our part.
The reality of life’s tragedies may breed fear in the hearts of our kids. One minute they’re innocently enjoying a carefree childhood and the next they’re hit with the reality that we live in a broken world where bad things happen, a lot. We can either feed their fear or combat it with hope, and the truth that although we live in a world where bad things happen, we have a Father God who loves us deeply and is always near.
Be strong and brave. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be frightened. The Lord your God will go with you. He will not leave you or forget you. Deuteronomy 31:6 ICB
Teach Your Child to Respond to Disaster with Hope:
- Clothe your words in hope. Speak honest but hope-filled words about the disaster or loss. When our words evoke despair, our kids will learn to feel despair whenever difficulty strikes. How we talk about hard times will plant seeds of either hope or hopelessness in the hearts of our kids.
- Remind each other that God is always with us. Quote this scripture in Deuteronomy over and over again if your child struggles with fear. No matter what we face, we do not face it alone. Our friends in Houston are not facing this horrible event alone. When things get hard it doesn’t mean God has abandoned or forgotten us. Leaning on this truth requires faith. Tough situations are an opportunity for kids to cultivate their faith so that it grows, ready to stand the test of time.
- Pray! Pray for hope to surround each person affected by the disaster at hand. Pray that even if their situation looks impossible, that hope would rise up in their hearts so they can continue to move forward to heal and restore their lives.
Pray this prayer together for those affected by the flood in Houston (or any difficulty or disaster):
Dear Jesus, Our friends need your help right now. We know this difficulty is no surprise to you. But we also know that it grieves your heart so much more than it hurts ours. We ask you to protect every person affected by this event. May they find safety and comfort. Jesus, please fill their hearts with hope that you will see them through this. Show us ways we can serve and love them beyond our prayers. We trust you to heal and restore each family and community affected by this tragedy. In your name, amen.
One of the most beautiful pictures of God’s redeeming nature is the Church rising up to help each other in their greatest time of need. I want my children to be a part of that beautiful masterpiece of recovery. I pray God gives me the grace to teach them how to connect to the world around us with a compassionate heart that is ready to love and serve so we can move forward together with hope.
Have you been affected by the flooding in Houston or another disaster? How can we pray for you?