Helping bereaved children

Joe at window2Today I feel compelled to write about helping bereaved children fueled by the huge sadness I feel after hearing the news of a friends’ death. She leaves behind two little children as well as a husband, family and friends, and will be sorely missed.

Since I worked on the Held in Hope series, I’ve realised more young children experience bereavement and exposure to serious illness than I’d imagined. I can’t even begin to imagine how that Daddy told his little ones that their Mummy has died. Or how their little minds and souls are coping.

However, I do know that our faith has a lot to say about sickness and death, that there is a thinness which happens at terrible times which makes us more alert to God and spiritual things, and that this is true for children as well as adults, even if they don’t express it in the same ways we might.

In this article I link to a some activities and resources which I hope you will find helpful.

Having worked closely with the chaplaincy team at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, I also know that there are many ways of helping bereaved children, some of which are similar to how we help adults (E.g. remembering that everyone is different and will grieve in their own way), and some of which are different depending on the age of the child. For example, most children under 7 years will find abstract concepts such as metaphors tricky to understand, and so it is useful to use concrete ideas with them. This is one of the things we worked hard to do in the Held in Hope series of books. Although many people have told me how useful they have found the book Waterbugs and Dragonflies and Badger’s Parting Gifts, we purposefully used people instead of animals, and told stories which had enough detail to feel familiar to children, and enough space to allow them to fill in their own specifics. E.g. When Maya goes to Hospital, we don’t know why she has gone, which allows children to insert their particular reason for going.

As part of the stories, the books have some lovely ideas on activities to do with children to help them relate to God during difficult times in their lives. E.g. the prayer stars Josh draws (in Josh stays in hospital) and the pictures of God’s house which Sam draws in Sam’s Special Book.

My favourite of the books, and the most popular by far is Jesus Still Loves Joe, a book about a little boy whose sister has died. It has stunning artwork by Rhiannon Mollart which really captures some of the emotions of grief, as well as telling us that it’s ok however we feel – Jesus still loves us!

They also have free online videos of each book, including interactive versions with questions to chat about with children. Why not check them out so you know what’s in the books? The stories are all read by Bear Grylls.

If you know a child who is grieving or dealing with serious illness of someone they love, or going to hospital, you may well find these books and video really helpful. If you work with children, you may find yourself suddenly in need of them one day, so why not get some copies for your shelf so you have them if you ever need them.