The best place to start is by simply asking the child what they have heard. The widespread presence of media coverage can be overwhelming for children at best, and exposure should be limited to lessen any potential anxiety.
Preschool through early elementary-aged children may be unaware of a tragedy, or they may have several questions and concerns. Children may wonder why terrible things happen. While tragedies are hard to understand, children can be reminded that God is always with them, that there are always helpers, and that they can be helpers, too.
While tragedies are hard to understand, children can be reminded that God is always with them, that there are always helpers, and that they can be helpers, too.
God has blessed our community with men and women who protect others from harm and who provide help in challenging times. Ask young children, “Who are our helpers?” Responses may include that of police, fire, military, other first responder personnel, as well as doctors, nurses, and ministers. Children may also name family members or friends who provide them with help when they need it. Affirm all children’s responses and make suggestions to show how many helpers there are.
Ask children when and where they see helpers in their community, school, and parish. We can thank God for these helpers, and ask God to bless them in their important work and ministries.
Pope Francis has said “God is peace: let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world.” (“Urbi et Orbi” speech, December 25, 2013)
Help children to understand not only that their communities are blessed with helpers, but that they, themselves, can be helpers. In times of trauma and tragedy, children may wonder, “How can I help?” Guide them to let their love and respect for others shine in all that they do. Children can perform small acts of caring, like speaking kind words and providing comfort to others. Small acts of caring work together to make the world a kinder and safer place and are a reminder of the good that there is in the world.
Young children may feel empowered when they realize they can be peacemakers. Teach children to make compromises. Working with them to reach compromise through conflict will help them to grow socially and emotionally through this stage of life. Teach children to forgive others. Help them to articulately communicate their feelings. Model ways to be a peacemaker in your home or classroom.
Children will be more inclined and prepared to take on the role of peacemaker when they see the example of those they love and respect.
Download and share a printable Helping Prayer Poem Activity to help young children recognize what community helpers exemplify and do, and ways that they can be helpers to others.
Before you begin the prayer poem, ask the children to name helpers in their neighborhood, school, and parish communities. Then, share the poem aloud or as an echo, reading a line and inviting children to repeat after you. Invite children to complete the poem with words on the line provided and/or a picture. If desired, mount completed student activity sheets on colored construction paper and display them for your community to enjoy.
Download available in English and Spanish.