For parents, deciding how to deal with the topic of death is one of the most difficult child-rearing decisions. There was a time when the birds-and-bees discussion was the most stressful “talk” a parent ever faced, but death, grief, and loss are now, for many parents, a source of greater concern.
To make matters worse, adults are not always on the same page about how and when to deal with death. While one parent may treat death in a very cavalier manner, another may wish to entirely shield their child from any interaction with the topic. Some hope to delay the discussion till the children are “just a bit older” or be “waiting for the right time.”
For parents who wrestle with the topic of death, Holy Week poses a particularly tough problem.
Passion plays portray a bloody and beaten Christ, dying before our very eyes. Sermons surrounding the Easter events tend to heavily focus on the death of the divine One. Even coloring sheets in Sunday School often show images of the cross and crucifixion.
All of this can work together to make even the most protective parent wonder how to manage it all.
How much death is too much for a child?
The reality is that death is an inevitable, yet painful, part of life. Whether that death be a grandparent, loved one, or pet, death will come to all families and often in the most undesirable of times. By the time they drive, 78% of children will have experienced the death of someone close to them. 1 out of 20 children who are of driving age have already lost one or both parents.1
Even without experience the loss of someone or something close to them, children regularly experience death. “Think about what children see on television. A news anchor calmly comments on the number of people killed on the other side of the world. A reporter at the scene emotionally describes gruesome details of a fiery airline crash or a terrorist attack. A cartoon character gets flattened by a steamroller and, after a brief pause and a frown, gets up to continue a chase. A character in a weekly mystery series gets killed, only to show up the next week on a comedy show on another network.”2
Conservative estimates indicate that a child will experience over a thousand deaths each year. Your children are fully aware of death’s existence and power.
What they are not fully aware of is how to cope with and process death. This is the responsibility of the parent.Parents are responsible for teaching children about the nuances of death and life. Click To Tweet
Opportunities abound to do so. For example, the annual cycle of fall and spring brings an opportunity to explain death and life. The metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly is another. Nature is full of perfect God-given opportunities to teach spiritual lessons.
Parents should make use of every opportunity to teach their children about the power and powerlessness of death.
One of the greatest concerns of child psychologists and family therapists is shared obliviousness, those topics within a family unit that are left unsaid. The things that we avoid often become the greatest chains that hold us back.
Use every opportunity to teach your children about grief, death, and loss. Do so in ways that are age-appropriate but which do not avoid the topic altogether. Allow them to see your emotion and experience their own.
Don’t forget, Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus through He knew he would soon be raised.
And on Good Friday, we do well to weep at His.
PRACTICE: Look for opportunities to reflect, connect, and discuss death this Holy Week.