Talking to Children about Jesus’ Death and Death in General

This post shares a letter written to the parents of children after the children participated in a church Journey to the Cross program which addressed the subject of Jesus’ death.  It shares some good points to consider when talking with children about death.

Dear Parents,

After experiencing the Journey to the Cross program, your children may have many questions about Jesus’ death and death in general. In an attempt to help you navigate these questions and others we have prepared this handout on how to talk with your child about death. Talking about death with children can be difficult, yet it is important to be open to talking about death and dying because it is one way we can share our faith in God. We hope this letter will help support you in your conversations that are a natural part of this Lenten season—and life.

When talking with your children about Jesus’ death and resurrection:

  • Be as natural as possible so that children know it is okay to talk about dying.
  • Be honest if you don’t have an answer to a question. Then try to find an answer together.
  • Children are concrete thinkers. Avoid terms like “passed on” or “went to sleep for a long time.” Say “Jesus died” to avoid confusion.
  • Emphasize that Jesus was killed by His enemies, not by the Jewish people or by God.
  • Emphasize Jesus’ courage and faith. He was brave in the face of death because he believed in His vision of God’s reign and trusted that God was with Him.
  • Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that God’s love can overcome all the bad things that people do to one another. Even though there is suffering and conflict in life, God will work all things together for good.
  • Teach them that God made everything in the world and God plans for everything to live and die—trees, plants, birds, dogs, and people.
  • Assure children that death is not the end. God promises that when we die we will be with God forever. We will live in a new way. Some people call this “heaven”.
  • Reassure children that God is with them and with those whom they love.
  • One of the reasons that we are able to talk about the dying of Jesus is because we know the rest of the story. We know that God had a marvelous plan for Jesus and for the world—and that NOTHING could prevent God’s plan from happening. We rejoice on Easter Sunday because Jesus Christ rose from the grave to live again—in heaven with God and in our hearts. God’s love for us won over death. Praise God!

Other things you can do:

  • Invite children to draw a picture of what it might be like to live in a new way with God—to be in heaven.
  • Look at tiny seeds and then plant them and watch new life come from the seeds.
  • Look at dry popcorn kernels. See how they have new life when popped into fluffy popcorn.
  • Give your child a hug. Tell him/her you love him/her and God loves him/her. Thank God for each new day and for the assurance of life after death.

If we can help in any way, please let us know. God’s blessings to you this Lenten season!

Nancy, Holly, Jennifer, and Mary Todd

Below is a list of resources on Easter and children’s books that help with the concept of death and dying.

EASTER STORIES:

The True Story of Easter by Nell Navillus, Illustrated by Tim Rocks, FaithPoint Press, Italy, 2004.

Signs of God’s Love: Baptism and Communion by Jeanne S. Fogle, Geneva Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1984.

Sunrise Hill by Kathleen Long Bostrom, Illustrated by Rick Johnson, Zonderkidz, Grand Rapids, MI, 2004.

The Tale of Three Trees retold by Angela Elwell Hunt, Illustrated by Tim Jonke, Lion Publishing, Colorado Springs, CO, 1989.

Easter by Fiona French, Harper Collins, United Kingdom, 2002.

The First Easter: The story of why we celebrate Easter by Carol Heyer, Ideals Books, Nashville, TN 2002.

Easter A to Z: Every Letter Tells A Story by Lisa Flinn and Barbara Younger, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN 2002.

The Easter Cave by Carol Wedeven, Concordia Publishing House, St Louis, MO, 2001.

Children’s Books on Death and Dying:

Dear God Why? By Annie Fitzgerald. This little book gives answers to children’s why? Questions. Why do bad things happen to nice people? Why do I have to sit in time out? Why did my pet die? Each question has a short answer and a scripture reference. Good jumping off place for discussion. Younger elementary ages.

The Lord is My Shepherd, by Ingrid Beck. A children’s version of the 23rd Psalm.

Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. A beautiful story about what dog heaven might be like.

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children, by Bran Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. This book helps explain death in a sensitive, caring, and beautiful way.

The Purple Balloon, by Chris Pash Raschka. A story about seriously ill children and dying. This book talks about all the people who surround someone when they are dying, but doesn’t talk about a faith component. Written with terminally ill children in mind by Chris and edited by Hospice.

It Must Hurt A lot: A Child’s Book about Death by Doris Sanford. A story about a boy who’s puppy dies. Has a good adult section in the back about how to help children with loss.

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst. A little boy comes up with ten good things about his cat Barney who has died.

Goodbye Mousie by Robert H. Harris. This story goes through the stages of grief a child has when his mouse dies.

When Pete’s Dad Got Sick by Kathleen Long Bostrom. This book shares the story of Pete who is learning how to deal with the chronic illness of his dad. Has a faith component and suggestions for parents and caregivers of hurting children in the back.

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