The two most difficult topics for parents and teachers to discuss with children are sex and death. For some odd reason, the church often steers away from these two crucial life topics. letting parents or schools handle the tough questions. As Craig Groeschell notes about sex in his book Weird: When Normal Isn't Working, we turn the topic of death over to complete strangers where children will find lots of misinformation. The church is the best place to teach children the truth about death.
As parents and children's ministry workers, let's have the courage to talk to our kids about death. In fact, let's not wait until someone close dies before we give them the information they need to cope. Here are some ways you can equip the children in your life to face death with courage and peace.
1. Have animals in your home and inside the classroom. Pets teach children so many lessons about birth, life, sickness, relationships and death. While children see death on tv and in their video games, it becomes surreal. Our society has created a sterile environment, shrouding death in a coded language. Few of us have actually seen someone die. There's nothing like having a small gerbil die in their hands or seeing a goldfish float belly up in a murky fish bowl that teaches a child, yes, death is real. It's a hard lesson but one that will take away their view of invincible life.
2. Take your children to a funeral of someone they don't know well. When my husband was a minister to an older congregation in rural Kansas, we had lots of funerals so I realized it was important to prepare my girls for the time a church friend might pass away. The church building setup was perfect. The nursery with a built in intercom had a glass window that looked out onto the sanctuary. The girls could play with freedom but would frequently press their noses to the window and ask questions about the funeral. I told them what was happening but didn't insist they keep watching or that they be quiet. When my older daughter's school bus driver died, my daughter knew what to expect and how to behave at his funeral.
3. At an appropriate time, when your child is ready or if you foresee your family may have to deal with this issue sooner rather than later, arrange to have a private viewing of the body of someone they don't know. Let your children take the lead. Don't press them to touch the body but don't exclude them from it either. Give them the freedom to ask questions; answer honestly at their age level.
4. Use the death of church members as an opportunity to teach about service to others. Have younger children draw pictures and make cards; involve older children in setting up chairs and tables for a funeral dinner. If a funeral is not on a school day, you can involve children as young as sixth grade in helping to serve at a funeral dinner. Your family can work together to bake cookies to take to a bereaved family.
5. Teach the truth. To me, Easter is a crucial Sunday. No way do I want to cancel children's church that Sunday! What a prime opportunity to share with children the hope we have through Jesus Christ. This is a platinum opportunity to talk about the reality of heaven and what Jesus had to do to make eternity with God possible. Use Easter - and every other chance where a lesson lends itself to this topic - to drive home the truth that, for the Christian, there is a hope of heaven for those who believe in Christ Jesus and we don't have to be afraid of death anymore.