Aftermath of violence: Helping children cope

The nation and the world were impacted last month by the events in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults lost their lives in a terrible mass shooting. While events of this kind are occurring too frequently in our world, this particular incident especially touched our lives by virtue of the number of innocent children whose lives were cut short. As parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts, we all identify in various ways with the pain experienced by those who lost their children on that day.

In the aftermath of this event, the national press struggled with questions of how parents talk with their children about such events. How can parents assure their children that when they go to school, the mall, church, and other public places, they will be safe?

The reality is that bad things happen and that sometimes these bad things happen to good people. This fact is part of living in a fallen, less-than-perfect world. On the other hand, the vast majority of the time, adults and children interact in the world with no negative consequences. As terrible as the Sandy Hook shootings were, it was an incident, not a pattern. Does society need to take steps to protect our children? Absolutely, steps need to be taken to protect those who cannot protect themselves. On the other hand, while children need to be assured that they are loved and actions are being taken to make them safe, as adults we know there are no guarantees.

It helps me to remember that children are resilient creatures. They do not need to be sheltered from the truth. Certainly truth needs to be communicated to them at a level which they comprehend and in portions that they can accept. However, hiding the truth from children or sheltering them from the realities of life is not helpful. Children need adults to model and teach them how to cope in difficult times. They need adults who will be there to comfort them when they hurt and in those times when confusion abounds.

On the Sunday following the December shootings, my son, who is a pastor, reminded the congregation that “Love still defeats hate, and hope is still stronger than despair.” Most important, all of us—adults and children alike—need to be reminded that God is in control, He loves us, and He still answers prayer.

The Sandy Hook shootings remind us parents of the precious gifts God has blessed us with in the persons of our children. The shootings also remind us of the uncertainties of life. While there is much we can do to provide a secure and safe environment for our children, we do not have full control over life events. As believers, the best we can do is trust God to protect us or be with us and comfort us during those times when evil seems to prevail. Ultimately, we can be assured that God is in control, He will right all wrongs, and He will prevail over all evil.


Peter Wilson, Ed.D.,

Chair, Graduate Counseling Program

Trevecca Nazarene University


Peter Wilson, a licensed psychologist in the state of Tennessee, is the director of the Graduate Counseling Program at Trevecca Nazarene University. He also sees clients one day a week in Hendersonville.