Loss is all around us. There is no way around it. As adults, we know this. You have likely experienced some kind of loss. Whether it is a family member, a pet, or just the idea of what you think life should be like, loss is real and touches everyone.
Once you become a parent there is a new layer to loss. How on Earth do we talk to our kids about loss? Should we hide loss from them? Should we cushion it? When the family pet dies do we tell them they went to the “farm” or are we honest?
What about when a family member dies? How do we walk them through that? How do we help a child grieve?
Do children grieve?
There are answers to these questions and while I’m not an expert, my family has experienced loss and all I can do is share how we have walked our children through these hard times.
Do Children Grieve?
The simple answer to this question is “yes.” Absolutely children grieve. But it will look different from what it looks like in an adult. Grief comes in waves for children and adults but when it comes to children the waves look like a sea of questions and behavioral issues.
What do I mean by this? An example that comes to mind is when we had a family pet die recently. The kids were extremely sad at first. It was obvious that they were grieving and missed their pet. However, as the days passed they had a lot of questions.
“Why did our dog die?”
“Do dogs go to heaven?”
“Can we see her again?”
“Does God care about dogs?”
One way for you to help talk to your child about loss is to patiently answer these questions. They will likely ask them often but it is okay to say “I don’t know.” You can also ask them what they think the answer is.
Their grief can also be behavioral in nature. They might be more emotional than usual or angry. You may notice that your kids are crying often or seem to have less patience than they usually do. In these moments it is important to give them a safe place to talk about what they are feeling.
Ask them some gentle questions such as “do you want to talk about what is bothering you?” You can also ask if they are missing the lost loved one or pet. Sometimes letting them know that it is okay to talk about it will take a weight off and they will open up.
Just remember that for kids, just like adults, there is no time frame for grief. It can pop up unexpectedly.
Age-appropriate honesty is vital when talking to kids about loss. I can’t speak for other families but in our family, we don’t hide loss of any kind. We are open about it and use the opportunity to guide our children through a tough part of life.
It is important to my husband and me that our children can navigate all of the losses that come with this life well and in a Christ-centered way. That they know we experience loss because of the brokenness in this world.
We choose to tell them that Jesus promised we would have trouble but that He has overcome the world and its brokenness. That pain and loss is part of this broken world but when Jesus comes back we won’t experience the heartbreak of loss anymore.
Part of the reason we are honest about loss is that we have both experienced the loss of our fathers far too early. Our children never even met my father-in-law and neither did I. My dad died when our oldest was only eight months old but the losses of both still weigh on us and our grief shows often.
One of the big ways we are honest with our kids is by showing them our grief and talking to them about our dads. Talking about how much we miss them, fun stories, and how much they would have loved their grandchildren are common conversations in our home. We have pictures around and acknowledge their birthdays.
When we are sad or are really missing them we share that too. It isn’t unusual for me to be crying in the kitchen simply because I wish I could call my dad. On one of these occasions, my daughter asked what was wrong.
Instead of saying “nothing” and glossing over it, I shared with her that I missed my dad and really wanted to call him but I couldn’t because he died and was now with Jesus.
We are also not that family that tells their kids that their pet ran away or goes to the pet store to find the exact match to the fish that just died (if your family does that I am not judging you. I’m just stating what we do as a family). We let them feel the weight of the broken world so they know why they need Jesus.
When talking about loss with our kids one thing that can not be left out is talking to God about it. Teaching our children to take their feelings of sadness and loss to the Lord in prayer is imperative.
This sets the stage for a lifetime of doing this. Of trusting God with their most raw feelings. Of knowing that God isn’t afraid of our pain or our questions.
Praying with your kids when they are feeling the weight of loss shows them where you put your trust and will encourage them to do the same.
Praying with our kids is important but so is praying for our kids. When they have suffered a loss no matter how small it may seem to us, remember that it is big to them. Pray for God’s comfort and for peace in their hearts and minds.
Conclusion and Scripture Helps
No matter where your family stands on talking to your kids about loss, I would encourage you to dig into God’s word and find out what He says about it. Here are a few to get you started.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:8
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
These really only scratch the surface of what God says about loss and grief. Take some time to study this so you can guide your children through the troubles and losses they will face in this life.
If you need help with this or have questions yourself, reach out to us here at Grace Community Church. We are committed to coming alongside you and your family any way we can.
Looking for a community or someone to grab coffee with who is in a similar life season? We’d love to connect with you and get to know you better! Below you will find a few people that can’t wait to meet you, shoot us an email so we can make a plan!
Tyler OJ Campus
Teresa Ator: email@example.com
Bethanie Tayler: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tyler UB Campus
Max Heller: email@example.com
Chrisleigh Heller: firstname.lastname@example.org
Molly Pontius: email@example.com
Debra Kirby: firstname.lastname@example.org