Helping children understand violence and tragedy

The mall shooting in Oregon USA and the elementary school shooting in Connecticut USA weigh heavily on my mind. I think about tragedies around the world — similar acts of senseless violence, or war, or natural disasters — and wonder how adults can explain these things to children, to help them feel safe in the world without making promises that just aren’t true (“if you’re good, only good things happen to you”). My prayers are with all those affected by tragedy, near and far.


Whenever I’m flummoxed, I ask, “What has the Lord said about this?’ This time the answer came for me through modern Church leaders, in an Ensign article that arrived right on time:  How Disciples of Christ Live in Times of War and ViolenceI’ve taken David Brent Marsh’s thoughts in that article and distilled them down into kid-friendly language. Each child will differ in ability to understand, so some children may need more and others may need less — much less — than this. In fact, I think you need not tell younger children at all, if they otherwise wouldn’t know. Follow the Spirit to know just what those children in your life need.

Here are excerpts from that article, with a few words changed to kid-friendly terms:

“The Lord’s prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, said, “We have come to the earth in troubled times.” God knew that ahead of time and called the Prophet Joseph Smith to bring forth the Book of Mormon to help us (see D&C 1:17, 29; 45:26). Many times in the Book of Mormon, the Lord delivered His disciples if they obeyed His commandments. But when God’s disciples are required to suffer the effects of violence, God provides relief for them. When Alma and his followers were taken captive, they immediately turned to the Lord (see Mosiah 23:27–28), and He promptly answered: “I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; … that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:13–14).

“Jacob told the faithful people of his day, “Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction” (Jacob 3:1).

“Modern-day prophets agree. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “While [God] does not always intervene in the course of events, He has promised the faithful peace even in their trials and tribulations.”President Benson, who was a prophet before Pres. Monson, said, “Even though times become perilous, … if we only trust in God and keep his commandments we need have no fear.”

“When we feel sad when people die, the Book of Mormon assures us that they are with the Lord and are happy. Moroni says, “For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God” (Alma 60:13).

“The Book of Mormon teaches us how disciples of Christ can receive peace in their hearts, homes, and nations. It is the best tool to bring us to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.”

For older children, you can also give them information about personal safety in general terms. “If ever there’s an emergency . . . ” or “If ever you hear strange noises. . . “, then explain age-appropriate information, so they’ll feel confident that they’ll know what to do.

Many, many of God’s children over the world and throughout time have faced tragedy, trusted in Him, and gone on to live their lives in faith even in difficult times. I join you in praying for the families of all who have been touched by violence and news of violence – which includes us all. And as children come to understand that there is evil, may they also know — may they KNOW — that they can trust in God’s goodness.

What suggestions can you share about how you have faced these situations with children?




Filed under Life Lessons

3 responses to “Helping children understand violence and tragedy

  1. Marci

    Just heard today about a “snowflake drive.” The Cranston, Rhode Island library is collecting paper snowflakes through Th Jan 3 to decorate the walls of the school where Sandy Hook students will return after Christmas break.

    For children who have moved on, you may want to let this pass. But for children who are still processing it all, having something concrete to do to contribute may help. Details about the drive at

    The Cranston RI library address is 140 Sockanosset Cross Road
    Cranston, RI 02920

  2. Pingback: In Case of Emergency – being prepared at church | Primary in Zion

  3. Pingback: Feeling safe in the last days | Primary in Zion

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