Knowing how to help our kids process grief or even knowing how much to expose them to the whole experience can be really difficult to discern. As a parent myself, I share that desire to want to be helpful to my kids and not harm them in an already difficult time.
With the help of our role model, Jesus, and through some wonderful wisdom of grief-experts, there are tips and tools for us to grab onto and help us navigate this difficult time.
- Be Honest. Kids need to know the truth in an age-appropriate way. Scripture tells us, “the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32), because truth has a way of dissipating our fears. When we keep secrets, we attempt to shield one another from the whole picture, clouding reality, which creates anxiety. But when we walk and talk in truth, it is relieving for us individually and creates trust relationally.
- Use Clear Words: Using words like “passed away” or “went to sleep” are too ambiguous of terms for little kids to understand. Even the disciples of Jesus (adults) even struggled to fully understand Jesus the first time He was telling them about Lazarus’ death. To give them more clarity he delivered the message a second time: “So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’”(John 11:14). Instead, of those more ambiguous statements, as harsh as it may sound to you, use clearer words such as death and died.
- Appropriately Grieve In Front of Your Kids: Internalizing our feelings, both as kids and adults, further complicates our grief and often prolongs and intensifies the experience. Sadness is a very strong emotion, but it has potential to bonds us further together. Jesus himself displayed his grief amongst his friends, as Scripture tells us in the moment he saw Lazarus’ body and the surrounding grief of his friends, “Jesus wept” and was “deeply moved” (John 11:35, 36, 38). This recorded moment gives us permission to experience those emotions like sadness and know that God Himself experienced feelings and expressed them in community. Healthy grief is free to express a feeling without an emotional demand for someone to fix it or take it away and provides space for others to have their own experience to share as well. Statements such as: “Mommy misses Granddaddy right now. She is remembering the time when….” By doing this, you model to your children, in an age-appropriate way, how to process those complex emotions of grief and safely voice those feelings.
- Allow Life: Give your grief time and space in your family, but don’t let it take up the whole show. Kids need to be kids, and there are good things going on today, even if it is found in the smallest and simplest of things. “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) is not just a seasonal concept of time, but rather a moment-to-moment calling. Playing, having fun, and having moments of reprieve from the grief conversation is not only helpful but really necessary to balance the emotional world of your home. While you give your kids that space to allow life, take that opportunity to create some space for yourself to process and share more of your personal, adult-level thoughts with a peer or spouse.
- Allow Your Kids Space to Grieve. Check in with your kids and ask them how they are feeling. When you notice behaviors or experiences that are abnormal for them, get curious and wonder if this is an manifestation of grief for them. As parents we can’t take away their grief or sadness, but we can do something wonderful: comfort. And we can draw our own comfort from God: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). Have you ever thought that we cannot experience the feeling of comfort without the experience of sadness or grief? By allowing your kids to weep and grieve, you are setting up a beautiful space of connection with them. See our other blogs about how to help your children discover and work through your feelings.
- Involve them in the rituals and celebrations of the dead. The more contact children have with the dead and the rituals/celebrations, the more they are able to process the loss for themselves. If you are writing letters to the deceased, invite your children to write one on their own or one with you. The key word here is Allow your child to be invited but not mandated to participate. You know your children better than anyone else, and sometimes they need some time before they are ready to step forward or they may have their own way of grieving that isn’t as clear to you.
- Continue Your Routine: This is one of the highest recommendations for grieving kids, but during this unusual time where our routine has also been displaced, it might be a bit difficult to figure out a routine. For you and your family together, you can work to s=deepen your spiritual walk with the practice of having a quiet time. Psalm 1:1-3 says, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked… But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.” Continuing your routine of meeting with God, and modeling this to your children, is a routine that can tap you into God’s resources that He has given you.
- Get them Extra Help: Providing someone else other than you for your child to process their grief is really helpful. Children are very emotionally connected to their parents, and sometimes they can get too distracted by our emotions to find the tools to search for their own. If you notice your child acting differently than usual or struggling at all to engage in grief, then it might be a good idea to seek out some counseling for them. Here’s a link to our support groups here at Hill Country Bible Church.
Ehmke, Rachel (2020) Helping children deal with grief: you can't protect your kids from the pain of loss, but you can help build healthy coping skills. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/helping-children-deal-grief/
Published on Apr 14 @ 1:07 PM CDT