Helping our children with Haiti

As children watch the children of Haiti, they need help processing the tragedy. They ask, “Mom, why did this happen?” But the real question on their minds is “Could this happen to us?” Tragedy is a horrible part of this world, but tragedy is also a reality. Yes, it could happen to any of us, in various ways. That’s why we don’t trust in anything other than God.

Children need the opportunity to talk about the Haiti tragedy. Our children need to be taught to pray for the children of Haiti, as they are pointed toward God for their faith during a time like this. But there’s more, much more, that can and must be done to help our children process this difficult scene. The visions of pain coming out of Haiti can’t just be stored away without discussion. They need help thinking through this tragedy, and then an opportunity to be part of the solution.

A century ago, when lightning hit a home or barn, devastating a family, the entire community turned out to help. When families gave from their own resources and rebuilt the barn, they brought their children along to help. This was a learning time for their children – a time to learn to stop focusing on oneself and to start focusing on the needs of others. It was a time to begin the most difficult lesson for a child to grasp: the experience of giving really is more awesome than that of receiving.

Jesus taught in the midst of tragedy. When Lazarus died, Jesus came to town and taught, as He ministered to the needs of the family, and as He brought Lazarus forth from the tomb. Jesus taught many great lessons of life while He was ministering to people’s needs.

Certainly our children are aware of the horrible tragedy that has taken place in Haiti. But awareness is not enough. American children have learned to block out tragedies that haven’t happened to them. The tragedy in Haiti is an opportunity for parents to take their children through the cycle of knowledge of the event, teaching them to trust in God when an event doesn’t make sense.

As Jesus taught the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He taught His disciples how to love and show compassion. There was a tragedy that took place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Some ignored it and acted like it didn’t concern them. One walked over, and perhaps felt some compassion. But compassion is only a feeling. The Samaritan walked over and gave of himself to offer aid. He felt compassion, and then he showed love. He did something about the situation.

One of the most frequently asked questions that parents ask today is, “How do I help my child get past his self-centeredness? All he does is think about himself.” Becoming other-oriented is not something that comes naturally. It takes training.

We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Haiti. But we also have a responsibility to involve our children.

The best way you can help your children with Haiti is to help them help the children of Haiti. Jesus said the most important commandment was to love God with every bit of you. The way you express that love is to love the people he sends into your path. He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Then He gave His parable about a person, an unknown person, who had a very real need. In order to help our children mature past their childish self-centeredness and to think about the needs of others, we have to lead the way and give them opportunities to sacrifice.

Dr. Robert Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues. 

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