So, this happened this week! I was talking with Miss Youngpeter in the preschool and telling her how sorry I was that her grandmother had just passed away. She thanked me and then preceded to tell me that Jumpy, the class pet had died! Yes, Jumpy, the tadpole/frog that we had in church one Sunday! How do you tell children when someone or something dies?
This is a question all of us face at one time or another! My answer is head on! It may seem easier to avoid the truth. We could have told the children Jumpy jumped away, or that he was living in a big pond now. But what does that teach children about death. I know, we don’t want our children to be sad or to suffer, but how do they learn to cope with loss if we don’t help guide them when they are younger.
Here’s what we did. All of the children from both classrooms met me in the Sanctuary. We sat on the floor in front of the altar like we always do. I told them the truth. That Jumpy had died and would no longer be in their classroom. As you would expect, many of the children gasped! And then, we counted and talked! I asked the children to come up 10 good things they could list about Jumpy. They shared some great memories of having Jumpy in their classroom. When we got to number 10 I said that Jumpy was buried in the ground and could feed the ground so other things could grow. Of course the children said Jumpy was in heaven!
This isn’t a new idea! There is a great children’s book called The Tenth Good Thing About Barney that I used when I was a teacher. The most significant thing to learn from all of this is to be truthful with your children! As much as we don’t want them to be hurt, it helps them to grow when we walk them through difficult situations. And, if you really talk to your children and ask them why they are sad after someone dies, they will be able to tell you that it’s because WE miss the person. If that is not their answer, then more conversation needs to happen so that they come to that understanding.
Part of science is observation. Take your children for a walk. During the winter many plants die. Talk with them about how those plants help the new plants that will be growing. Depending upon how brave you are, talk about when people die too. Having these conversations now, when children and parents are not going through the stress of someone close to you dying is always a good idea. Talk about healthy ways to deal with emotions when people die. Our children are exposed to death more often than we realize. Have you watched the news lately! Your children have probably seen or heard some of the same things you have! They hear things all of the time! Especially when we don’t realize it! When you are finished with your walk be sure to pray together. Ask God to be with you everyday in every way!