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!
Children’s Book Recommendations:
Badger’s Parting Gifts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRTRABhJTbo
The Invisible String: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlUxXexjhYI
Images of God: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rWTFJPTvA0
We Are Here For You:
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
Preview YouTube video Parent Webinar – Talking with Children about Death
Parent Webinar – Talking with Children about Death
Preview YouTube video [Badger’s Parting Gifts] By Susan Varley ♡ Spoken Ruby Dee
[Badger’s Parting Gifts] By Susan Varley ♡ Spoken Ruby Dee
Preview YouTube video The Invisible String Read Aloud for Kids!
The Invisible String Read Aloud for Kids!
Preview YouTube video Images of God for Young Children by Marie-Helene Delval