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We can't shelter our kids from reality forever. We live in a fallen world, and it doesn't take long for our children to notice that it sometimes isn't completely safe. We can help our kids by giving them a better understanding of natural disasters, their place in the world and how these disasters might affect their faith.
Assure them of your presence
We can't control the natural disasters our families might face. But we can reassure our kids and address their fears, explaining how rare these events are and that we will do everything we can to keep them safe. When the Colorado wildfires were a bedtime concern for my daughters, they seemed relieved to know that their parents had a basic understanding of what our family would do if the fire ever came near our house. We talked about the ways we would find out if fire was approaching and the decisions we'd make if we got an evacuation notice.
Don't avoid the faith implications.
Natural disasters can seem incompatible with our view of a world created by a loving, all-powerful God. Can't He control the weather? Can't He stop the terrible storms, or at least protect the people who can't get away? And these aren't questions that only children ask. Parents, pastors and theologians have wrestled with this issue over the centuries.
Apologist Alex McFarland, author of The 21 Toughest Questions You're Kid's Will Ask About Christianity, says that it's important for parents to respond as honestly as they can to these questions from children, to help them recognize that natural disasters are a part of life and are compatible with their growing faith. "Our children’s questions in these areas deserve thoughtful, logical responses," McFarland writes. "It’s not sufficient to simply write off disasters or hardships by saying 'God works in mysterious ways.' "
As you discuss these questions with your kids, remind them that this world has been sickened by the consequences of sin. Creation, the apostle Paul wrote, continually suffers the pains of its "bondage to corruption" (Romans 8:21). It can be helpful to return to Genesis, to help kids see that the world was created without disasters and destruction, that sin brought all death into this world and that the infection remains to this day. "God says that the original creation was perfect," says McFarland, "but sin and fallenness was introduced through human rebellion. It was our sinfulness that caused God to curse the earth."
The story doesn't end there, however. While God may not always calm the wind and the waves, He doesn’t sit back and ignore our plight. Just as He sent His Son to save us, He also has promised to redeem this fallen world, to “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), even if this corrupted and dangerous, natural-disaster-burdened world seems set against us.
Know when to turn off news coverage
News coverage is a big part of our culture's conversation whenever a disaster hits. We’ve probably all heard about the importance of sheltering young kids from the excessive media coverage surrounding natural disasters.
I don’t think we should protect our kids from all media coverage, however, particularly as they get older and can handle limited amounts, along with conversation. I’d rather have my kids see the truth, the gritty reality of a real forest fire or hurricane instead of the wild fantasies they may hear about from their school-yard friends (or from The Wizard of Oz).
Show them people who are helping
And it’s not all bad news. On TV, we see firefighters and pastors helping to ease pain, and national and local leaders sharing thoughtful reflection or asking for assistance. The media can help our kids connect to their community, to know that people are working together to help and protect, save and salvage.
As Fred Rogers once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' "
This approach helps kids understand that the disaster and its immediate aftermath are not the end of the story. Because of good decisions by individuals and businesses, help for these communities often continues long after the disaster story is no longer in the news. This realization — and knowing they can help others — instills the hope in kids that things will not remain sad or scary forever for families touched by a disaster.
Vance Fry is a senior associate editor for Thriving Family magazine at Focus on the Family.