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Posts tagged ‘children’

Children: The Biggest “Need Machines”

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Barbara Rainey/Family Life Ministry

Need Machines

Over our doors are all choice fruits, both new and old, which I have saved up for you, my beloved.

Song of Solomon 7:13

Without question, the biggest deterrent to romance for moms is children.

These sweet, precious, innocent little ones given to us by God are also self-centered, untrained, unending “need machines” who can suck the life out of our marriage. They often leave us feeling like the mother who said, “It’s ironic. Romance gave us our children, and children ended our romance.”

But motherhood can simply be a tempting excuse for giving up sex.

Caught up in her day-in-day-out responsibilities, a mother can experience a slow shift in loyalty from husband to children. She thinks the needs of her children, since they are so helpless and formative, are more important than the needs of her husband. After all, he’s an adult.

True. And yet one reason why this reasoning is faulty–one reason why it’s easy for us to have little sympathy for our husband’s sexual needs–is that we as women are able to experience our femaleness simply by nurturing our children. We feel fully alive as women when we’re caring for them (that is, when we’re not totally exhausted!). We feel a deep, innate sense of well-being and fulfillment; it is an indescribable privilege that brings us profound satisfaction. It’s what we were made to do.

But it’s only part of being a woman. God didn’t create you with the capacity and compulsion to nurture just for the sake of your children. He also meant for you to nurture life in your husband. Maintaining this balance is one of the biggest challenges of the parenting years; your children need to see Dad and Mom in love.

Nurturing life in your husband may not be as automatic as it is with your children, but it is no less important. God will help you balance the needs of both husband and children when you depend upon Him.

Pray for God’s wisdom in balancing life’s demands.

What the Trinity Teaches Us about Parenting

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/ Stephen James and David Thomas

The way God relates to us is deeply relevant to how we relate to our children.

Parenting is a wild and unpredictable ride—full of twists and turns. That’s why books on parenting sell in the gazillions. Search “parenting” on Amazon.com, and you’ll find thousands of books offering insights on and solutions for raising children (we’ve even written one of them!). We secretly hope that if we get the right tools and practice the right techniques, our kids will turn out fine.

As we researched our book on parenting, we sought to discover a biblically-centered framework for raising children. Not surprisingly, we found many examples and concepts in Scripture that can help us become wise, mature, and loving parents. But we also found what you might consider an unlikely model for parenting: the Trinity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). As we looked at some of the ways the persons of the Trinity relate to us, we uncovered important insights into how we can relate to our children.

GOD THE FATHER

Scripture paints a picture of a Father God who is personal and purposeful as He relates to His children. These characteristics can serve as a road map for us as parents.

Personal. God relates to each of us on intensely personal levels. How He works in one person’s life may be very different from what He does with another person. How God engages with Moses in Exodus 3 (as an encourager) is very different from how He engages with Jacob in Genesis 32 (as an adversary and giver of blessing). Similarly, if we want to parent our children well, we need to parent them as individuals.

We (Stephen and David) each have a set of twin boys. Our respective twins share the same genetic mix, the same gender, the same hair and eye colors, and yet they couldn’t be more different. Their personalities are different, and they will pursue different vocations and different relationships. Despite all that they share, our sons are unique, and we need to relate with them according to that uniqueness.

An important asset for discovering a child’s individuality is curiosity. The curious parent looks for and notices how a child is changing and being changed. Curiosity seeks more than information; it draws out a person’s heart. It encourages dialog. One way of doing this is through questions. You might say, “You’ve seemed angry lately. Has something happened?” Or “I can tell you love your new bike. What excites you about bike riding?”

Another way we relate personally with our children is by entering their worlds. We have found play to be wonderfully effective. My (David’s) six-year-old daughter is passionate about dolls. Two of them, named Jane and Caroline, dine at our table, ride buckled in the back of our car, and are kissed goodnight every evening. Because I love my daughter and want to know her, I’ll sometimes sit on her bedroom floor and ask questions about Jane and Caroline. I even change their clothes and comb their hair. It’s pretty hilarious to watch a grown man receive instruction in ponytail placement. But this is what my daughter loves. She can even put ponytails in my hair if it communicates that I love her enough to want to know who she is and what she loves.

Purposeful. Our Father God is also purposeful in His relationship with us. He acts intentionally and carries out His good plans for us. He does not wait for us to come to Him; He makes the first move. Think of God with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 after they tried to hide. Or with Moses in the burning bush (so much for hiding in the desert). God moves toward us again and again with an invitation for us to move closer to Him.

Practicing this kind of intentionality can be particularly challenging for parents with teens. How can we be proactive with a kid whose behavior seems to communicate, “Get away from me” or “Leave me alone”? In the face of teen sullenness, it’s so tempting to default to standing at arm’s length and waiting to be invited in for a few seconds.

Yet we firmly believe that behind every hand (or heart) that says, “Get away” is another that says, “Come close.” Which means you may have to get really creative with adolescents if you want to stay in relationship with them. If you’ve tried a litany of options without success, food is a good bet. Figure out where they love to eat and take them there. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

GOD THE SON

God the Son also gives us a biblical picture of parenting. Let’s consider His roles as a sacrifice and a teacher.

Sacrifice. First and foremost, Christ was a perfect offering who suffered and died for our sins so that we can truly live, both now and forever (Ro. 5:6–8, 1 Jn. 4:9–10). He willingly did for us what no one else could or would do. And like Christ, we as parents are to sacrifice—lovingly and wisely—on behalf of our children.

I (David) recently took my family to the beach. We practically crawled there. The week before we left had been intense: challenges at work, the death of a friend, missed deadlines, and a cancer diagnosis for one of our parents. By the time we reached the ocean, all I wanted to do was plant a lounge chair on the beach and not move for five days. All my kids wanted to do was build sandcastles, fish, and play 20,000 rounds of Marco Polo. Joining them was an intentional act of sacrifice: I laid down what I wanted so I could be present with them. In the grand scheme of things, this may seem a small sacrifice. Yet I believe that with such sacrifices our children are blessed and our Savior is pleased.

Teacher. Perhaps one of Jesus’ most vivid roles is that of teacher. Throughout the gospel accounts, we see Him illuminating the truth of God for His listeners. Our children need the same from us.

Sometimes teaching involves giving specific instruction. Other times, it may mean we stand back and practice the art of silence so that experience can be the teacher. The father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) provides a rich example of this type of teaching. Surely this man knew his son well enough to know that he would blow his inheritance: Wouldn’t most adolescent boys do something reckless with a wad of cash? Yet the father allowed his son to squander it all. What a wise father, and what a scary, vulnerable place his hands-off approach must have put him in. His son learned a lesson, however; experience taught the prodigal that there’s no place like home.

GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT

Now we turn to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Two primary works of the Spirit that relate to our parenting are convicting and coming alongside us.

Convicting. One thing the Spirit does in all of our lives is to convict us of our sin (Jn. 16:8). Sometimes He does that through specific scriptures, words from a wise friend, or a persistent inner voice that urges us to examine our ways. If we are to love our children like God loves us, there will be times when we must stand before our children and name their sin, especially when it involves character issues. Too many parents fail to expose their children’s character defects for fear of harming their self-esteem. But we are not talking about verbally shaming, harassing, or assaulting a child. We are talking about speaking with our children the way God engaged with Paul on the road to Damascus: metaphorically knocking them off their high horses and into the truth.

Some friends recently caught their son lying about whether he had checked his backpack (he often didn’t) to make sure he had everything he needed for school the next day. It wasn’t a “big” lie. And overall, we’re talking about a pretty extraordinary kid: an excellent student, a great athlete, the kind of kid that most parents want their kids to hang around with.

Upon discovering the lie, my friends confronted their son and took away his “life” for a couple of weeks: his electronics, sports practice (he got to sit on the bench but not play), overnight stays at a friend’s house, and so on. The boy fired back that he couldn’t believe he’d lost that much over “a stupid backpack.” He added, “I’m a good kid, and this feels extreme.”

His dad explained that the issue was not his “stupid backpack.” It was his heart that his parents were concerned about. “You are a great kid,” they told him, “and plenty of people would testify to that—teachers, coaches, your friends’ parents. Enough folks have done so that you’ve lost touch with the fact that you’re a liar.”

These parents cared enough about their son to shatter his good-guy image and to deal with the state of his heart. This is strikingly similar to how the Holy Spirit deals with us when He convicts us of sin, exposes our foolish self-righteousness, and shows us a better way to live.

Coming alongside. The same Spirit who convicts us also comes alongside us and comforts us. Yet it is hard for many parents to move from being the ones who convict to being the ones who comfort, to set aside the teaching role and focus on simply being there.

Think of it this way: No kid wants to be taught the proper technique for riding her bike when she has just flipped over the handlebars. She wants a hug and a Band-Aid. And when your son doesn’t make varsity, one of the worst things you can do is to turn the situation into a teaching moment. He needs an arm around his shoulder to help him grieve his disappointment.

The example of the Holy Spirit shows us that there is a time for parents to convict and a time for us to comfort.

EXAMPLE PLUS EMPOWERMENT

Each person of the Trinity teaches us something about parenting. We learn from the Father to be personal and purposeful with our children. We learn from the Son how to sacrifice on behalf of our children and how to teach them God’s powerful truths. We learn from the Spirit how to expose our children’s sin lovingly for the sake of their emerging characters and how to come alongside and comfort them when life is not what they had hoped it would be. But perhaps the ultimate wonder is that the same Triune God who models parenthood for us also lives in us and empowers us for this scary yet sanctified calling.

Parenting Techniques: Loving and Effective

SOURCE:  Bill Bellican

Children hold a very special place in the heart and plan of God.  The concepts of marriage, family, and parenting were originally (and still are) God’s idea as the way children are to be loved, taught, and prepared for life.  In fact, God looks upon us all as his children, and He continues to train us our entire lives to be able to be the individuals He intends for us to be (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:16; 1John 3:1).  It makes sense that God desires we attend to this important task of parenting with excellence.

As with most important pursuits in life, skills are required to accomplish it well.  We can’t imagine doing some things without training and skill development at some level.  We must learn to drive, take lessons to play musical instruments, and be trained in our profession.  There are many important endeavors of life that would be unthinkable to undertake without training.  However, with one of the most important life pursuits we are called to do—parenting—we “wing” it, do the best we can, or repeat what has been modeled for us in our family of origin.

Among the many resources available to us today to help us learn necessary parenting skills is one in particular.  This is a book by Dr. William J. Richardson titled, Loving Obedience: Child Training Techniques That Work (Northfield Publishing: Chicago, 2000).

Using Biblically-based and research supported principles, Richardson defines parenting as “a two-fold task:  meeting children’s needs and teaching them to meet their own needs.”  To do this, parents need to be skilled in the areas of meeting needs and teaching as well as helping children learn to behave in new ways through effective discipline.

Included within these techniques are:

  1. Acknowledging Assets – instead of finding faults, we look for characteristics in our children we treasure.
  2. Catch Them Doing Good – we look for and call out good rather than just bad behavior.
  3. Touching The Heart – we let good, wholesome, healthy touch communicate what words cannot.
  4. Having Fun – we intentionally have fun with our children to communicate strong relationship messages.
  5. Acknowledge Effort – to see and to appreciate effort in the face of imperfect accomplishment or even failure signals powerful love.
  6. Acknowledge Improvements – we see even slight improvements instead of focusing on disapproval.
  7. Acknowledge Contributions – look for contributions children bring to the home and life and acknowledge the contributions out loud.
  8. Remove The Benefit Of Bad Behavior – when we identify and remove a benefit or positive consequence that reinforces bad behavior, the bad behavior tends to stop.
  9. Wisely And Lovingly Use Corporal Punishment – for cases of dangerous or knowingly disobedient behavior, wise and loving application of age-appropriate spanking can suppress these behaviors. It is important to note that, although it helps to get rid of certain behaviors, it is not a tool for teaching new behaviors.
  10. Utilizing Logical Consequences – these are noncorporal negative consequences that suppress undesirable behaviors that are logically connected to those behaviors.
  11. Understanding And Using Reward – positive, desirable behaviors followed by a positive consequence or reward are strengthened and will tend to be repeated.

By prayerfully learning and faithfully employing these techniques, two things happen.  Parents will be employing more effective skills, and children will change their behavior.

Other resources for learning parenting skills:

Focus on the Family – www.fotf.org;

Family Life Ministries – http://www.familylife.com/;

Smart Step Families – http://www.successfulstepfamilies.com/

How Much Validation and Nurturing?

Every person needs both validation and nurture to fully develop into a healthy adult.

SOURCE:  Tim Sanford

Validation from Dad, plus nurturing from Mom, equals “mission accomplished” as parents. You’ll notice that the word control doesn’t appear anywhere in that equation.

But speaking of equations, how much validation and nurture does your teenager need?

I’ve known teens praised for their accomplishments, but hardly ever validated for just existing.

I’ve known teens kept neat and clean and “mothered,” but neglected and lacking those qualities needed to become fully alive as human beings.

Every person needs both validation and nurture to fully develop into a healthy adult. That’s why God’s ideal plan includes every child being raised by a mom and a dad. It doesn’t always happen that way, of course, and I’ll say more about that later in this article series.

What happens when a child is raised in a home marked by too little validation or nurture or both? In my 20 years as a professional therapist, I’ve seen as many people in my office — if not more — who lacked these ingredients as I’ve seen who were abused by a parent. Don’t get me wrong; abuse and neglect are very destructive. But the damage can be just as severe for those who didn’t get enough validation from their dads or nurture from their moms.

I remember the story of a missionary kid in Ecuador. Though I’ve long forgotten the details, one statement from this boy — close to my age at the time — still rings in my ears. He said, “My dad will spend three hours talking to a drunk on a street curb, but he won’t spend three minutes talking to me.”

This boy was part of a missionary family, doing God’s work in a foreign country. There was no abuse here — just lots and lots of “not enough.” The damage was just as deep as if it had been caused by active abuse.

The pain, woundedness, and emptiness in case after case like this may be covered with a practiced smile or an impeccable résumé. But they’re still there.

So how much is “enough”?

Do you have to be a perfect parent?

No, and no again!

Dad, your validation doesn’t have to be flawless. It just needs to be enough for that individual child.

Mom, your nurturing doesn’t have to be world-class, either. It needs to be enough for that particular child.

But how do you know what’s “enough”?

“Some” is not the same as “enough”

Consider another word picture. Let’s say you need 50 “units” of oxygen to stay alive. If you have 52, you have enough to live on — maybe not enough to run a marathon, but enough to survive.

If you have 96 units, you have enough — and some left over to climb Pikes Peak.

But if you only have 9 units, you don’t have enough. You will die.

So if you have 49 units, do you have “enough”?

No.

“What are you bellyaching about?” someone might say. “You have

a whole lot more than the person who only got 9!”

Some adults might say, “I know my parents loved me, and they gave me what little they could in the way of validation and nurture. I got more than a lot of other people did growing up.”

But was it enough?

Some is not equal to enough.

“Enough” varies from child to child, personality to personality. What’s enough for one child may not be for the next. If a child doesn’t get enough validation and nurture, he or she may not physically die — but will be emotionally damaged and maybe even emotionally cease to exist.

What happens when your child doesn’t get enough

That was the case with Angie. Sixteen years old, she was brought into my office because she was angry, hurting herself, and depressed.

She came from an upper-middle-class “Christian family,” to use her parents’ words.

As I got to know Angie, she told me of the daily routine in her home. Dad was always busy with work, even when he was in the house, and rarely spoke a word to any family members. Mom was clinically depressed — nonfunctional in private, but upbeat and social when in the public eye.

There were no harsh words, no abuse, no molestation. Angie was just left to fend for herself — not because her chores were assigned, but because they wouldn’t get done otherwise. She did her own laundry, made her own meals, checked her own homework, paid for her own things, and answered her own questions about life.

Yes, she was angry; she was all alone. There was no validation, no nurturing — no “fussing.” Yes, she was harming herself; she was taking her anger out on the person she thought was at fault. She told me it was her fault for being born — a tragic jukebox record she’d been playing for years. And yes, she was depressed; you’d be depressed, too, if that were your life.

It was all because she hadn’t gotten, and wasn’t getting, enough validation and nurture — at least for her.

This story breaks my heart as I recount it. Angie chose illicit drugs rather than therapy to deal with her situation, and I never heard from her again.

Her story isn’t unique, either.

This is not a call to “blame the parents for all the teenager’s problems.”

It’s a statement of reality and truth.

That’s the vital nature of validation and nurture. Unfortunately, the necessity of both may be forgotten until after a child has been raised — often by moms and dads who spent their parenting years searching in vain for control.

Taken from Losing Control & Liking It, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2009, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

PRAYING FOR OUR CHILDREN

Source:  Unknown

…that they will know Christ as Savior and Lord early in life.  Ps 63:1; 1Tim 3:15

…that they will have a hatred for sin.  Ps 97:10

…that they will be caught when guilty. Ps119:71

…that they will be protected from the evil one in each area of their lives:  spiritual, emotional, and physical.  John 17:15

…that they will have a responsible attitude in their personal relationships.  Dan 6:3

…that they will respect those in authority over them.  Rom 13:1

…that they will desire the right kinds of friends and be protected from the wrong friends.  Prov 1:10-11

…that they will be kept from the wrong mate and saved for the right mate, and that they both will be kept pure until marriage.  1 Cor 6:18-20; 2 Cor 6:14-17

…that they will learn to totally submit to God and actively resist Satan in all circumstances.  James 4:7

…that they will be single-hearted, willing to be sold out to Jesus Christ.  Rom 12:1-2

…that they will be hedged in so they cannot find their way to wrong people or places and that wrong people can’t find their way to them.

Grief and the Christian Family

“Why does a loving God allow tragedy? Why doesn’t He just stop terrible things from happening? What is going to happen next? How is this going to affect me and my family? Am I safe? Is there going to be a war? Can I go on my high school trip without being killed? What is going to happen next?” How can parents explain death, divorce, or terrorism to children and teens when they don’t even understand it themselves? These questions keep running through everyone’s mind, adults and kids alike. We feel so angry, so sad, so helpless, even so guilty for having a good day. What we all feel is grief. It’s a short word that stands for a whole array of excruciating emotions. Now, while in the midst of one of the most difficult times in our country, we have to go to work, or mow the lawn, or do the laundry, or balance the checkbook, or even be a parent to a child or teen we dearly love- previously sheltered youth who are hurting as much as we are and understand their own sorrow even less. There’s only one thing we can do. Wrap ourselves in the love of the Lord and let Him carry us through. Grief, this confusing, devastating, volatile mixture of emotions, is a natural response to any loss: death, divorce, loss of health, familiar surroundings, or treasured possessions. This article will discuss the impact of grief on the family and give suggestions for parents on what to expect and how to help. Much of the discussion will center around the death of a family member, but grief also accompanies a divorce or national terrorism. The only difference is the intensity.

Grief affects the mind, body, and spirit. It seems impossible to concentrate or think clearly enough to make even the simplest decision. The body reacts in unexpected ways: pain, sickness, sleeplessness, difficulty breathing, overwhelming fatigue for some, and for others, amazing bursts of energy. For a few, grief brings a deeper, more satisfying walk with their Lord. For many, a massive wall is built between them and their Savior. Surely, all who take the journey through grief find that it transforms their relationship toward God. For example, Susan, a high school student, couldn’t think clearly and had a sharp drop in her grades after a loss. She tried to deny the pain, but it showed. The stress caused her skin to turn a bright red and she quickly gained twenty pounds. Despite this, she learned to depend on God to help her though the sleepless nights. Stephen, on the other hand, has not been to church since he lost his father five years ago. He, like many, is mad at God. Even now, his grief is unresolved. Normal grief is an essential part of healing. Abnormal grief occurs when a person withdraws too long, pushes others away, or becomes bitter and depressed. Unresolved grief may cause involvement in detrimental activities such as drugs, alcohol, or other addictions. It can even affect the immune system and increase the risk of cancer. Grief seems like a silent enemy, but if you face the enemy head-on, it can become your friend.

Since the loss of security and a sense of trust can cause grief, we are currently a nation of mourners. We all hurt for the families of those lost on September 11. Those who have already experienced a loss, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, can have a particularly difficult time in a national tragedy. The following information is written for those who have had a personal loss, yet the process is the same for all grief. Certainly it is infinitely longer and more profound for those who have lost a family member, yet the information and suggestions can be used by anyone who is concerned about how their kids are coping with the nation’s tragedy. Parents need to find ways to tenderly touch the fragile hearts of every family member so they can talk about their most sensitive emotions and encourage one another in Christ.

A major loss often causes such a disruption that the family system can never fully recover. There are families that learn, with the help of the Lord, to comfort and support one another and, through the process, become closer and stronger. What is the difference between the families that survive the loss and those that fall apart? It seems that the survivors learn to communicate their feelings with each other and with God. This is agonizing at first, especially to children and teens. Children have active imaginations and think they can cope by pretending the loss didn’t happen and nothing has changed. Teens are usually reluctant to share their feelings with the family, so they try to work through their grief alone and pretend they are unaffected by the loss. This pretending is not healthy for adults or teens.

Everyone will experience some type of loss, and loss often leads to misconceptions. These misconceptions are often called magical thinking. Adults often use magical thinking somewhat jokingly when they say, “I’m going to take my umbrella so it won’t rain,” or “I knew it would rain because I just finished washing my car.” We know we can’t control the weather, but there’s an almost imperceptible feeling that we can. With kids it is a strong but silent feeling that causes much pain. Just like adults secretly think they control the weather, kids believe their thoughts control the world around them. In the deepest part of their being, they know the loss is their fault. Sometimes they believe in their hearts that a certain thought or action caused the loss, but sometimes they just know they are responsible. They only wish they knew what they did so they would be sure not to do it again. Just like Kevin in the movie, “Home Alone,” who wished his parents would disappear and woke up thinking his wish had come true, a child will believe an angry thought or wish was responsible for the loss.

Because it’s very difficult for children to admit these misconceptions, it’s important to keep communication open so they feel free to talk about these feelings. Adults and teens usually think this way after a loss, too. “What if I hadn’t had that fight with my Mom?” “What if I had called the doctor sooner?” “What if I had driven that day?” “What if I had been at home?” It’s easy to get caught up in this type of thinking, especially after a death, but the simple truth is that God has a time appointed for each person to die and there’s nothing anyone can do to change God’s timing. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2) We can only trust that He has an eternal reason. Each life is like a mural on a wall, and He sees the whole picture before we are ever conceived.

Death is abstract and children think in concrete ways. Yet it is essential that they know the truth about the death of their loved one and the spiritual significance surrounding it. Most teens have begun to think abstractly. They want to find meaning in the loss. Be honest about the events surrounding the death, but keep the explanation simple. Answer questions honestly, but leave out the dreadful details.

Liz, a woman in her thirties, told this story while in a drug treatment program. When she was young, her father died of a freak accident. Her mother never told her anything. She just whisked her away to the neighbor’s house. Liz asked questions when she saw her dad’s picture on television, but instead of getting answers, she was rushed out of the room. No one even told her that her father had died. The philosophy then was to protect kids from hearing about tragedy, but it’s no surprise that Liz had an addiction, how could she ever grieve the loss of her daddy when she didn’t even know why he never came home again? She turned to drugs to deaden the pain of her unresolved grief. In trying to protect her from the truth, her family left her to the lies of her own imagination.

Kids need someone to explain to them what is happening in their lives and to assure them that they won’t be alone. One of their greatest fears in a loss is that there will be no one to take care of them. They need to be told who will be there for them. In most cases, children are attached to both parents and feel that a part of them is missing if a parent leaves or dies. They are also bonded to siblings and grandparents. After a loss, they see their families as a puzzle with one of the pieces missing. They often feel fractured and powerless, with no sense of direction in their lives. Teens feel sad, but they are more comfortable expressing their anger. Many try to fill the role of the missing family member and become prematurely faces with grown-up responsibilities. Kids need someone outside themselves on whom they can depend. They need someone to hold them and tell them that when everyone else is busy trying to rebuild their own lives, God is always there. Adults need this, too, so a wise parent looks to their friends and their church for support during this troublesome time.

No two people react the same way to loss and each individual’s feelings and reactions change from minute to minute. Children’s understanding of loss changes as they get older. Infants and toddlers believe that when an object is out of sight, it ceases to exist. They enjoy the game of “peek-a-boo” because it helps them begin to accept separation and loss. Since they are incapable of understanding that some people do not return, they can’t conceive of the permanence of death. If an infant loses the nurturing parent, bonding will be broken. It is essential for their future emotional health that they bond with another person. Children who have not completely bonded might be quite charming and make friends quickly, but they have difficulty developing long term relationships because they have never learned to trust. Some have more severe problems. These children need much emotional support and often could benefit from Christian counseling.

Preschoolers are still trying to grasp the idea of object permanence and they are dealing with much magical thinking. Because they feel responsible for the loss, they may feel guilt and shame. They think death is reversible, like it is in cartoons, and may ask many questions about biological functions. If parents get divorced, they will try their best to get them remarried. They can get lost in play and temporarily forget about the loss. Because their imaginations are so active, it is important that they be told the truth about the cause of the loss at a level they can understand. Children who are not told the truth will make up an explanation for the changes in their lives. Their imaginations run wild and adults would often be amazed to find what irrational thoughts are going through the minds of children. Before they can be completely free of the grief, little ones need someone to listen to their version of the story and correct their wrong thinking.

Between the ages of six and ten, children begin to understand that death is final, but they often personify it. It is important that euphemisms not be used, because children are very concrete and take what is said literally. A couple of stories demonstrate the literal thinking of children. Eight-year-old Devin said he is afraid of going to heaven. He thinks eternity is such a long time that he might get bored. He did admit, though, that heaven sounds better than hell. Jenny, age six, tried to console her grandmother after the death of her husband. She overheard Granny asking the undertaker if water would get into the casket. “Don’t worry, Granny,” said Jenny in her most reassuring voice, “God will give Granddaddy a drink of water.”

Death can be explained to a school-age child as the time when the body stops moving and breathing and the spirit leaves. Use a puppet to explain this in a concrete way. When the hand is in the puppet, it moves. When the hand is removed from the puppet, the part that makes it move is gone and the puppet is lifeless. That is like what happens in death. The spirit leaves the body and the body no longer moves or breathes.

Children who experience the death of a family member while in elementary school are overwhelmed with sadness, but they feel they must control it. For many children, especially boys, anger is more socially acceptable. Some children resist the expression of any emotions, but their behavior shows how much they are suffering. Jonathan, age seven, refused to talk about his trauma, but he loved jabbing pencil lead into paper plates. As he was doing this, he was exclaiming, “I’m not angry! I’m not angry!” Jonathan needed help learning to admit his normal anger. If children are not encouraged to express their feelings, they may never resolve their grief.

Teens try to find meaning in their loss. Although they feel sad, they are also more comfortable expressing their anger, which in some cases can lead to violence. Teens who experience the divorce of their parents may find it difficult to trust in dating relationships They long to retreat to their childhood just when more responsibility is being expected of them. They may feel guilt about their normal adolescent rebelliousness, thinking they should have spent more time with the person they lost.. If a parent dies during a time the teen is in rebellion, this can cause a strong feeling of shame, which is too embarrassing to admit, but can haunt the person for years. Allen, a man in his forties, wept when he finally revealed that, as a teen, he had chosen to play tennis rather than go to the hospital the day his father died.

Kids of all ages who are grieving may feel sad, lonely, guilty, and very angry. To avoid thinking, they are often in constant motion and have difficulty concentrating in school. They need the opportunity to express these strong feelings in appropriate ways. Like adults, kids need to grieve, but also like adults, they can resolve the loss. It is important that they receive prompt and accurate information about the loss and are allowed to ask questions, participate in the family grieving rituals, and have a comforting adult to rely upon. In telling kids about a loss, whether right after it happened or while discussing it later, be sure they know they are not alone. Use physical contact and be direct. Reassure them it was not their fault and it is not going to happen to them. Then encourage them to talk about the loss.

Children, teens, and adults move through the grief process in their own unique way, yet kids can experience the stages differently from adults. Jewitt (1982) describes the ways grief might affect kids. In the early stages of grief, youngsters may experience shock, denial, and a feeling of numbness, as if God is letting the loss sink in slowly. They will seem lifeless, smiling on cue, with possible outbursts of panic. Some may act as if they are not bothered by the news. Physical symptoms can include increased heart rate, tension, sighing, and relaxed bowel and bladder control. There is a possibility of sickness, nervousness, and trouble sleeping. The child needs comfort, warmth, and structure.

There are several forms of denial. Children may seem to forget the loved one is not returning. They may reject the loved one or refuse to admit that the person ever existed. For teens, it may be the feelings that are denied, as if to say, “This isn’t happening.” Children and teens often use excessive talking or hyperactivity to keep from thinking about the loss. Many will fear being alone. Some kids are too busy adjusting to a new situation to grieve. If denial lasts longer than three to six months, professional counseling may be needed.

As youngsters begin to face reality, their grief becomes overwhelming. They go between thinking about the loss and ignoring it, strong emotions and apathy. They need free time for this period of grief, so too many extracurricular activities can delay the grief process. They are often preoccupied with the lost person and wish he or she was still in their lives. They may be very active or bargain to get the person back, as if they are thinking they have some control over the loss. Since kids model the way their parent expresses grief, they should be included in the mourning process. Sharing tears can be a healing and bonding experience.

Just before kids begin to reorganize their lives, they go through the worst, but fortunately the shortest stage, depression. There is a sense of hopelessness, which may include slower movement, physical symptoms, helplessness, loss of appetite, and even fleeting thoughts of suicide. After this difficult period, kids begin to realize that life can go on and they are going to be all right. This doesn’t mean they are happy, but the strong, overpowering feelings are gone. Even small new losses, such as a move or the loss of a pet, can bring back the waves of grief. These secondary losses can revive all the previous emotions with a vengeance.

Adults must also journey through the grief process in their own way. As with children, the initial reaction to loss is shock and denial. The griever is not ready to accept the loss and reacts with a numb, empty feeling. There may be tears, some difficulty breathing, disorientation, and a need to do nothing but sit and stare. This fatigue may continue as the numbness gives way to overpowering emotions: anger, guilt, fear, panic, loneliness, sadness. There may be physical illness, tension, and aches and pains. Sleeping may be difficult, or the griever may want to escape into a slumber or some other type of isolation. The person will be edgy and may react to life’s little difficulties more strongly than usual. As time goes on, those who are moving normally through the grief process will begin to find new interests or revive old ones and find a new life without the loved one. This doesn’t mean they miss the person less or are happy about the loss. It just means they have found a way to resume their own lives.

For adults, teens, and children the grief comes in waves and can be brought on unexpectedly by a sound, a smell, or a thought at any time or any place. Something as simple as a trip to the grocery store can bring back memories that make the loss seem as if it has just happened. A smell of fresh lemons, a song played so low on the PA system that it’s not consciously heard, or a glance at the loved ones favorite food can produce a tidal wave of almost forgotten emotions. Talking about the loss and the loved one seems to facilitate a healthy progression through the grief process. Getting your family members to open their hearts and face their sorrow this way can be difficult, but there are some communications skills that may help.

Communication Despite the loss, you want your family to feel lovable and important. Your communication is like a mirror in which others see themselves; so it is important that you use good communication skills in discussing your loss. For children, especially young children, nonverbal communication speaks louder than verbal communication. If your nonverbal communication agrees with your verbal communication, then children feel they can trust what you say.

The most effective communication skill is listening carefully for feelings. Children don’t always have the words for their feelings, so they may need help in labeling them. Teens often have a difficult time talking to their parent about their feelings, yet a wise parent finds ways to draw out the emotions of their teens. Even adults feel understood if the listener responds with a word that describes their emotions. Practice using a skill called reflective listening. That involves listening for the feeling in a communication and reflecting that feeling back to the speaker. A good way to use this skill would be to listen and then say, “It sounds like you feel _________.” If you are wrong, the speaker will correct you, which makes the person have to think about his or her feelings to answer you. It is even more effective if you add the reason you think the speaker feels that way. Reflective listening requires sensitive listening to the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal messages and reflecting back the total message empathically without judgment.

This kind of communication can be helpful to a kid who is having behavior problems due to anger, because negative feelings always exist before negative acts and another feeling always comes before anger. It is usually fear or sadness. When we respond to the anger by reflective listening, then kids lead us to the underlying feeling. When youngsters have strong emotions, it is important to listen carefully to what feelings they are trying to express, accept the feelings without necessarily accepting the behavior, and providing an acceptable outlet for the expression of the feelings.

Another communication skill is called “I” messages. An “I” message can be used when the speaker’s behavior causes a feeling in you. This is a way to model the expression of feelings. “I” messages are effective because they express feelings without blaming. Follow this formula: “When you do _________________, I feel _________________, because ____________. For example, “When you say unkind things to Billy, I feel sad, because I care about Billy’s feelings.” It is important to help your family move through the grief process by working through their emotions. This is accomplished by allowing each member an opportunity to tell their story and explain their feelings. This can be difficult; so a parent can help by using good listening skills. Some of the skills that would be useful are:

1. Restatement – Let the speaker know you are listening by restating what was said in your own words.

2. Interpretation – Try to find the “why” behind the speaker’s behavior. Behavior that is understood is easier to accept and change, however, asking a direct “why” question can often put speakers on the defensive. The truth may be that they don’t even know why.

3. Confrontation – Point out the discrepancies between the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal behavior. For example, “You say you are sad, but you are smiling.” This helps family members to see that their behavior is not matching their feelings and the behavior may need to be reevaluated.

4. Minimal encouragers – Add the little “umhums” that show you are listening.

5. Summarization – Bring together the main points of the conversation.

6. Open-ended questions – Ask questions that encourage the family members to explore their thoughts and feelings by having to give an explicit answer. These questions usually start with how, what, would, or could.

7. Closed-ended questions – When there is a need for facts, ask a question that can be answered with a yes or no or other specific information. These questions are necessary sometimes, but they do not encourage communication on a feeling level.

8. Looking for misconceptions – Listen carefully for misconceptions about the death and the beliefs surrounding it. When you discover these misconceptions, be aware that they can be deeply held beliefs and it may take time and effort for a person to internalize the truth.

Whether a loss was the death of a family member, a divorce, or terrorism and the accompanying loss of security, the grief process is the same. A death or divorce is more devastating, while terrorism can cause a great increase in fear. A caring parent gives lots of hugs, even to teens who act like they don’t want them. A wise parent listens and encourages the younger members of the family to talk about whatever feelings they have. Even if the parent doesn’t agree with the feeling, it should be accepted as legitimate to the person who shares it. The following verses may be helpful for dealing with some common emotions:

Fear- Philippians 4:6-7 and Hebrews 13:5
Anger- James 1:19-20
Guilt- 1 John 1:9
Powerlessness-Ephesians 3:16

After a loss, the best thing a parent can do is turn to God for comfort and lead the family to do the same.

Bibliography
Jewett, C. L. (1982). Helping Children Cope With Separation and Loss. Harvard Common Press, Harvard, Mass.

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