Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult thing for anyone to go through, especially children. Death is always very tragic and sad, and it makes God sad too to see us go through suffering. He wants to help you and your children through such difficult times. Here are eight ways you can help children safely process through grief the way God intended.
1. Allow All Emotions to Be Felt.
When grieving, people often experience a wide range of emotions—none more so than children. Kids may grieve differently than you, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting. If the loss is one that affects you as well as the child, you may think you have to be strong to hold your family together, but don’t think that means you shouldn’t cry or show your sadness. Kids need to learn healthy ways to grieve and express emotion. They need to see that it’s okay to cry, be sad, and ask for help when they need it, and that’s something they can learn from your example.
The only danger with grief comes when grieving gives way to despair or loss of control, which can lead to even greater anxiety. Allow all emotions to be felt and processed, but remember that God is still good and in control.
2. Find Comfort in God and One Another.
When you properly grieve together, you can also comfort one another. A great way to comfort one another is by looking to God who is the great comforter. In 1 Peter 5:7, God says to cast all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you. Remind one another, “God loves and cares for you.” Pray together, telling God how you feel and asking Him to help. Show kids that it’s okay to be honest with God about your feelings as you pray about your emotions. Your willingness to show your own struggle with grief will help kids work through theirs. Grief can be scary, but God is there to help.
3. Give Kids Time and Space to Grieve.
Give children the time and space they need to grieve, in their own way. It may be encouraging for kids to know Jesus grieved too when He was on earth. When Jesus received terrible news that His cousin, John the Baptist, was executed, the Bible says, “He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” He and John had a special bond, and Jesus wanted time alone to grieve. Maybe your child needs some time alone as well. Show you are sensitive to their needs by asking “do you want me to stay, or do you want time alone?” Respect their wishes and simply remind them you’re there to support them when they need it.
4. Teach Kids it’s Okay to Cry.
The Bible also tells us Jesus wept as He grieved for His good friend, Lazarus. Even though Jesus knew God’s plan was to bring Lazarus back from the dead, He still cried. Crying doesn’t mean you aren’t trusting God; it’s a natural part of being human and expressing the complicated range of emotions God gave us. It’s okay—good, even—to weep and work through emotions when a loved one dies or something tragic happens. God created emotions, and Jesus, in His perfection, showed deep emotion and grief. Encourage kids that it’s okay to cry and never shame them (or yourself!) for tears.
5. Create Space to Ask Hard Questions.
After experiencing loss, kids may have questions about death and what happens after people die. Take time to listen to their questions and gently give honest answers. If you don’t know the answers, point them to God who knows all the answers. Also, be sure you don’t let them think their questions are causing you more grief or they may stop asking. Some children will let grief lead to guilt, so it’s important to help them talk about their feelings so you can counsel them well.
A great tool for helping kids to process the questions death and grief can often bring up, is the Do You Wonder Why? booklet by Child Evangelism Fellowship. Designed especially for kids, it dives deep into questions about why bad things happen, while pointing kids to the hope they can find in God. You can purchase the Do You Wonder Why? booklet at cefpress.com or by clicking here.
6. Teach Kids Why Death Exists.
When God first made the world, it was perfect. However, when sin came into the world, it brought death and destruction. Take time to read Romans 5:12 with kids and explain how when the first man and woman sinned, sin spread to all humanity. Death is the result of that sin. However, make sure to clarify that death is a result of the sinful condition of the world, not a specific sin of the person who died or anyone else’s sin.
7. Teach Kids the Hope We Have in Jesus.
After talking about how death points to the great problem of sin in our world, take time to share about Jesus’ death and resurrection. While sin shows us the why behind death, the resurrection shows us the hope beyond death. Read 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 with kids and ask what they think it means when the Bible says that, through Jesus, death no longer has its sting. The answer is because Jesus gives victory over sin and death. When you believe in Jesus, even though your earthly body dies, the real you (your soul) goes on to live with God forever, and Heaven is a wonderful place! You receive a new body and a new home where there is no sin or death.
Knowing this can be a great comfort to children. It can also be a good opportunity to talk with them about what they believe, and invite them to believe the Gospel if they haven’t already.
8. Remember That Grief Isn’t Linear.
Grief is sneaky, often unpredictable, and rarely ever something that truly “heals”. The grief of missing a loved one can often sneak up and surprise a person at odd times or long after the initial grief period seems to be over, so continue to be sensitive. If you notice a change or the symptoms of grief in a child, perhaps ask if something reminded them of their loved one so they can talk about it. Help them take pleasure in the good memories and process the positive things they miss. If the person was known to you as well, tell the child you are so thankful you can share the memories with them and offer stories of your own. This frees them to fully share what they are feeling, when they feel it, and helps them realize they can have a part in comforting others as well.
Death and loss is a terrible thing to go through. But by processing grief together as God intended, we can help kids grow and transition through it safely.