When I was 11 years old, I was getting off of the school bus from an overnight trip at Camp Tecumseh in Indiana. My entire fifth-grade class had been on an overnight trip, hiking, canoeing, and learning outdoor survival skills. It was an amazing trip. But when I got off the bus, my mom didn’t seem very excited that I was home. In fact, she seemed afraid.
I loaded the car and I began to tell about my experiences at the camp when she turned to me and asked me to be quiet. She then began to tell me that I was no longer allowed to walk home from school but instead had to ride the bus. (My house was about a two-minute walk from my school.) She told me that once I got home after getting off the bus, I was to stay home. I couldn’t go to friends’ houses. I couldn’t go next door. I had to stay home until my parents got home. I didn’t understand why all of a sudden there were all of these new rules.
Then she said words that have stuck with me until this day, “Zach, our country is going to war. Things are going to be different now.” The date was September 12, 2001.
Since then our country has gone through all sorts of tragic events. These kinds of parent/child conversations aren’t easy to have, but they are necessary to ensure your student knows two things: 1) how much their parents love and care for them and 2) how a follower of Christ can respond in a time of tragedy.
When it comes to these difficult conversations, we want to give you three reminders/pointers to aid in success.
1. Create/choose a calm environment.
You know your student better than anyone else, so choose a place that will help them feel at ease. Whether the conversation happens in the car, on the couch, or in their room, choosing the right space can be just as important as what you have to say. Remember to remove distractions, such as phone, TV, or even siblings. You want to make sure that you have their undivided attention, so what you have to say can have maximum impact.
2. Allow them space to process the information and to have their turn to talk.
Students who are experiencing a national tragedy may need time to process and understand why the event was so significant. Don’t just share information, but give them room to process the information they’ve heard and ask questions. The number one place that a student should be allowed to express their doubts and feelings should be in the presence of their family, even if they won’t admit that they have that need. Give them the opportunity to express their feelings, and it will aid in building a higher level of trust between you.
This could be the most important aspect of the conversation. It is so tempting to have conversations and tune out the second that you are not speaking. By listening, you show your student that you care about what they have to say, and that speaks volumes into their life. Don’t just hear them, but listen to what they are saying. Try to understand their point of view. And if it is necessary, ask probing questions for an even deeper understanding.
By following these suggestions, you will be able to lead your student through hard times in a way that is loving and honoring of Jesus Christ. Don’t avoid these conversations. Engage your student and you will see that, not only will you grow closer, but they will be a better person because of it.