In talking with members of our church family in the past few days, I am realizing that COVID-19 and the loss that trails behind it is starting to hit very close to home for many of us. A member of our church family passed away last week from the virus. You may very well know others who have lost their lives recently, due to COVID or other causes. Unfortunately, there may be more in the coming days.
So how do we tell our kids about death and dying? How can we help them grieve? Last Fall, our Sunday School teachers participated in some training in how to help our children with grief. I have some of the highlights below and I’ve also added some more tips I found helpful in watching this recent webinar* on talking with children about death. I encourage you to watch the video, but here are some highlights.
Helping Kids Cope with Grief:
– Speak completely about death with children: “____ stopped breathing and they have died.” Avoid saying confusing things like, “_____ is sleeping for a long time.”
– Model openness and vulnerability for children: Name exactly how you’re feeling when you find yourself missing someone who died.
– Name that it is okay to laugh and be happy when you’re feeling sad and missing someone who has died.
– Encourage children to ask questions.
– Reflect on coping strategies that work well for you. Model these and name them for your child(ren). For example, “I need to go for a walk right now to help me think about my sadness.”
– Grief is not only about people dying. Our children may be currently grieving other things, like seeing friends, playing sports, going to church and school, etc.
– Follow kids’ leads for their preferred grief outlets: coloring, imaginative play, playing games, etc.
– Some children may be withdrawing into solitude in their rooms – keep inviting them to do activities as a family, like eating together, going for a walk, playing games, or whatever their interests might be.
– Talk about all of the helpers in your community and the extraordinary displays of love being shown by humanity right now!
– Don’t try to fix their feelings. Let them feel sad and affirm their sadness with statements like, “I feel sad, too.” Giving them space to feel their grief equips them for emotional regulation.
– Be patient with their grief process: your child might have big feelings about seemingly trivial things. (my son Henry was SO mad today that he couldn’t eat pizza for lunch!) This is part of their grief process.
Good Theology for Talking with Kids about Loss:
– Jesus came here to be human and show us all of the feelings. John said, “Jesus wept”. God’s faithful people do not always experience joy. It is okay to feel sadness and despair.
– When children ask tough questions, it is okay to tell them that we don’t know all of the answers. Have grace for yourselves. We don’t know the full nature of God.
– Children may need some sensory practices to help them remember God is with them. Light a candle, ring a bell or chime, or give them a rock to hold to remind them that God is near.
– Children can write a letter to God with their feelings. Tell them God is big enough to handle any feelings or thoughts they lift up.
– Go into the Psalms and read them with your child to show them that generations of people have suffered and asked questions of God.
– Reread the Holy Week scriptures together. Acknowledge the suffering Christ endured, while also reminding them that the story did not end with Christ’s death on the cross. Help them make spiritual meaning in this: what we are experiencing now is not the end!
– Be ready to theologically learn from your child. They can be the best theologians around!
Please know that our clergy and church staff are also here for you and your family right now. Feel free to email us or give us a call if you and/or your children need someone to talk with about big feelings. I also encourage you to join our PUMC Families WhatsApp group to share/receive ideas, prayer concerns, and to stay connected. While we cannot gather together physically, please know that your feelings are valid and that you are not alone!
Director of Children’s Ministry at Princeton United Methodist Church
*The webinar involved two experts from Green Leaf Psychology (Dr. Jennifer McCollum, Licensed Clinical Psychologist) and Sandra Concannon, Marriage & Family Therapist, along with four from Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church — Rev. Jaime Polson, Pastor for Family Ministry & Executive Leadership, Lori Robinson, Associate Director of Children’s Ministry, Keris Dahlkamp, Director of Youth Ministry, and the moderator, Ryan Timpte, Director of Children’s Ministry,
Thanks to the video conferencing program Zoom and the efforts of church staff, children and youth can participate in church life through Sunday School, Confirmation Class, Youth Fellowship – and even the children’s choir meets online with Tom Shelton, children’s and youth choir director.
For instance, at the 30-minute practice on April 1, Tom opened with fun vocal warmups, giving everyone a chance to demonstrate. With a short video, he reviewed what Palm Sunday means and connected it to Sunday’s worship. Children learned the “Hosanna” opening hymn to get ready to wave palms from their homes on Sunday.
Sometimes the children saw only Tom, sometimes they saw and heard one person singing a solo, sometimes their faces were spread out in a grid. “It does my heart good,” says Tom, when I look at all of their faces, and they are sitting up tall in their chairs at home and actually singing!
Connection is the most important part, Tom says. “These are troubling times. It’s nice to have some sense of normalcy or ‘routine’ when everything they are used to is ‘up in the air.’ They LOVE being together!”]
It is takes three times longer to plan a virtual class, practicing how to move from warm up exercises to showing a score. Mostly the singer’s screens are muted, but they unmute themselves to respond. “I love how much they want to be a leader and sing an example,” says Tom. “I have to be very conscious that It’s not ‘just singing,’ but that I’m stretching them musically, by asking questions and having them explain the answers or type the answer in the “chat” message box.
On April 15 the singers will enjoy a treat. They will reprise the musical from February in a virtual “sing along!”
Says Tom: “One positive thing – I’m growing a lot by doing this! I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks! “
On Sunday, July 28, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached on the topic “Your Children and Children’s Children” from the sermon series “Ages and Stages.” Her sermon is based on the Scripture reading from Deuteronomy 6: 1-9.
Who helped you find faith? Who helped you to know how much God loves you by showing you how much they loved you. Who are those people that helped you to understand how to love God and others by showing you how they loved God and others? I invite you to give thanks to them now.
In Deuteronomy 6, the Scripture tells us, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” We all know this passage. Out of it come guiding principles and Christian practices that we all believe in and follow. This passage breathes with life and faith and spirit.
Jesus said the greatest commandment of all, is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus is speaking to the community family of families. We are responsible for the children of the whole community and not just our own biological family. I urge you to keep these words in your hearts, recite them and talk about them to your children and grandchildren at home and others away from home to share this faith with them. We are also a model of hope for others around us, including our church family.
Some of you have different concerns for your children and grandchildren, particularly trouble or problems your loved ones are facing. The general desire is for our young people to have grown up in the faith. Grab onto one thing today and apply to your life or situation. Because challenges, suicides, world problems, and bullying will happen. But God is with us. He has endowed us with resilience, trust, and forgiveness. Don’t wait until your faith is where you want it to be. Start now and take the challenge to grow into the model you want to be. Good Christian practices include Loving God, loving our neighbor, showing grace, vulnerability, and forgiveness.
We are models of faith for others around us. Who are your models? It can be your parents, grandparents, and another adult from the church. These three groups are the most significant and have a lot of power for good or bad. It goes beyond just good behavior, and sometimes we forget the falls and the failures. We are therefore invited to pay attention to our spiritual development, to our practices of loving God and others. We must create a prioritized space in our lives where we are gathering, praying, and studying the Scripture with other Christians.
The beauty of Christian music comes alive when children and youth feel what the lyrics say, according to Tom Shelton, PUMC’s director of children’s and youth choirs. Choir members learn good singing techniques and music theory (video link here); they participate in worship monthly, present a musical in the spring, and sing at special services throughout the year (video link here). “I want young singers to love music their whole life, not just for the time they are with me,” says Tom.
Encourage families you know to bring their children to PUMC’s choir. What they learn is invaluable. They enter wide-eyed and curious and leave as musical and global citizens. Invite newcomers to the first rehearsal on Wednesday, September 12, at 4:30 p.m. (kindergarten and first grade) and on Wednesday, September 12, at 5:30 p.m. (second through fifth grade). The first rehearsal for youth (grades 6-12) is Sunday, September 9, 5 p.m. Tomteaches the youngest children, ages three and four, during their Sunday School class.
In the spirit of service, the 2nd-3rd and 4th-5th grade Sunday School Classes will be sponsoring a mission project through Church World Service. The children in the 2nd-3rd grade class reviewed options last week and selected to prepare Hygiene Kits. According to Church World Service, “In the face of natural disasters, violence, or grinding poverty, Hygiene Kits can mean the difference between sickness and health for struggling families.”
(The photo shows a child displaced by the 2011 Mt. Merapi volcano eruption in Indonesia receiving CWS School and Hygiene Kits. Photo: Matt Hackworth/CWS)
Children can bring supplies from the list below to Sunday School from now through March 29. That day, the children will assemble the kits. Then we will bless the kits in a church service and send them to Church World Service.
One hand towel measuring approximately 16″ x 28″ (no fingertip or bath towels)
One wide-tooth comb
One nail clipper
One bar of soap (bath size in wrapper)
One toothbrush (in original packaging)
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant[a] is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” John 13:12-17.
Join us on Sunday, November 16, for a Children’s Sabbath service, when the youngest members of our church will lead worship at both 9:30 and 11 a.m. Fourth graders will receive their Bibles and read from them. With Pastor Anna Gillette the fourth and fifth grade class will deliver the sermon. Led by Tom Shelton, the children’s choirs — shown here in rehearsal — will sing. All in all we look forward to a very special time, when together we worship God, our loving parent.