By CTA-Christ to All
A Guide to Church Care Ministry Grief Support for Children
When people experience loss, they experience many other feelings as well: sadness, anger, confusion, emptiness, and more. The complexities of grief are even more complicated when it is a child that experiences loss. And yet, children—likely children in your church—do suffer loss. Ministering to children during difficult times requires sensitivity and a confident sharing of the Gospel of our resurrected Savior, Jesus. We hope the following will help you and serve as a guide to church care ministry grief support for children.
Types of Grief the Children Experience
Because grief is different for children than it is for adults, it’s important to keep in mind that the events that might cause an adult to be sad may affect children much more deeply. Children experience grief when the following occur:
- A loved one dies
- A pet dies
- A friend moves away
- An older sibling moves away
- Parents get divorced
- They or a parent are diagnosed with a serious illness
Adults should not assign value or lack of value to a child who is grieving. Most of us have had a goldfish go belly-up, and while it may not seem like a big deal to a grown-up, it can deeply affect a child. Of course, the loss of a hamster pales in comparison to the death of a parent or sibling, but children do not have that perspective. Treating every loss as a loss shows the children in your ministry that you care and is an opportunity to share Jesus’ love with that child.
How Children Grieve
There are times, though, that children are faced with a loss that, by any measure, is devastating. The death of a parent, sibling, or close relative will shake anyone to the core.
Just like adults experience and express grief in unique ways, children grieve in different ways. Younger children express grief differently than older children. For example, younger children may experience developmental regression. A young child that had been fully potty trained may suddenly start having accidents in Sunday school. Older children, on the other hand, may retreat or pull back from interaction. They may throw themselves into video games or become hyper-focused on craft projects during midweek classes.
If a child is experiencing loss and grief, he or she is likely to behave differently than before the loss.
How to Help: A Guide to Church Care Ministry Grief Support for Children
More than anything when we see children suffering, we want to help. We want to make them feel better. In grief support for children, there are a few things that you can do:
- Listen and give them space to grieve. No one just “gets over it,” so expect children to ask questions and work through their feelings at their own pace and in their own way.
- Be honest. Using metaphoric language about death is not helpful and can be harmful. For example, telling a child that the parent that died is “just sleeping” can cause major anxiety. Not only are statements like that inaccurate, but can cause stress for the child before bedtime and sleeplessness.
- Ask them how they are doing. Naturally inquire about their feelings and encourage them to ask questions and express themselves in the way that they need to.
- Remind them of the hope of the resurrection. For Christians, death is terrible, but it is not the end. Because Jesus rose, we are certain that we will be with him—and our loved ones!—forever someday. We can tell a child that his or her loved one is with Jesus and that while we’re sad now, that’s okay; one day that child will see their loved one again.
- Provide resources for parents and the child. Many times adults are experiencing grief alongside their child. Let the child’s parents or guardians know that you are praying for them. Encourage the family to seek help and support through grief share groups. Keep in touch with parents and child and keep them in your prayers. Resources and books that help children express their feelings and give grown-ups and children a way to connect and open communication are also great ways to help.
Grief is hard for adults and children. Praise God for a risen Jesus, whose resurrection means that we, too, will be raised and united with those whom we love. We in care ministry have a message that the world does not: death is hard but death is not all there is. We—adults and kids alike—have the sure and certain hope of an eternity with God and with those who have gone before.
You are welcome to copy this article for one-time use when you include this credit line and receive no monetary benefit from it: © 2023 CTA, Inc. Used with permission.