Protecting children emotionally

Some adults have ideas that children should be protected from the realities of death. They imagine that by excluding children from discussions about death, hiding their grief from children or prohibiting children from attending a funeral they protect children from the pain of death.

Such a view underestimates the full humanity of children. Although young children lack the verbal and behavioural skills to express their grief, the emotional impact of grief is nevertheless strong and very real for children.

In excluding children from our rituals, we make it harder for them to make sense of their feelings and to process what has happened. Grieving is a communal process – a person who dies has belonged to many different relationships and communities including work, family, leisure, cultural and civic spaces. Funerals demonstrate that the person was a whole, complex, rich human being. Where children have been a part of a person’s life, they belong in the communal honouring and remembering of that person.

Children’s spirituality and education expert Ivy Beckwith points to three keys that help children make sense of the deep questions in life:

‘Children need stories, intergenerational relationships and rituals. This need is especially heightened in times of grief. Welcoming children in our funerals or other grieving gatherings gives them access to all three of these. Children may wander in and out of a wake, or wax and wane in their attention at a funeral; these are signs that they are working things through in the bite-sized pieces they can manage.’ Ivy Beckwith, Formational Children's Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, And Relationship; Baker Books

Beth Barnett

Beth is currently undertaking doctoral studies in the area of New Testament examining the constructs of maturity in the letters of Paul. She has held pastoral roles in Baptist and Anglican churches and been a long-term volunteer in the missions of Scripture Union, for whom she is a freelance resource writer and trainer. She teaches units in Children and Families Ministry and Biblical Studies at Stirling College, as well as guest lectures in other Melbourne, Australia, colleges. Internationally, she is a writer and facilitator in the Child Theology Movement.