Being prepared to help our children deal with death and tragedy

There is no way we can shield our children from experiencing death, loss and grief. It is a fixed reality in our world. There is also no advantage in trying to protect children from dealing with death. They will need to learn how to handle the realities of life and death. This means that we too, as parents, carers and alongsiders to children, cannot avoid dealing with their fascination, fears and experience of death. We need to be prepared and ready for this.

If you find yourself anxious about your own place in helping your children through these times, here are some things you can do to prepare yourself.

Continue to deal with your past grief. If you have experienced loss in the past, you will know that we never really ‘get over’ our grief. As the Bible puts it, ‘Love is stronger than death’ – and we continue to hold strong feelings for a person long after they have died. This is normal. But we must also find ways to life joyfully and fully without them. Some families live in the shadow of a long-ago death and their children inherit a fear or sadness about death that is hard for them to understand.

Have some practice conversations with a trusted friend, role-playing how you would talk about death with your child. Take a light-hearted approach, and don’t worry if you stumble a bit through this scenario – it’s better to find where the gaps are ahead of time.

Give some time to figuring out your own beliefs about death. You may not want to share these directly with your child (though it’s likely that it will help them) but getting in touch with your own deeply held core beliefs will help bring clarity to any time the topic comes up. A chaplain, minister or friends with strong convictions of various faiths will usually be pleased to help you think things through, even if you don’t follow their particular belief system.

Be courageous in asking for their help. ‘Hey, I am interested in hearing what others believe, and in sorting out my own thoughts about some of the big things in life and death, especially so I can support my kids more. Would you be up for a chat to help me?’

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.

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