When our children’s hearts are bruised and battered it feels like part of our mother’s heart is dying. We want to shield them from all the world throws at them on a daily basis. We long to carve out a space where we can shelter them from daily arrows that plunge into their innocence. I have sat helplessly as my children have endured one tragedy after another.
I have worked with children in my counseling practice who have shouldered unspeakable pain. When we see bright eyes turn dull after countless days of unending disappointment and heartache, we need to know what to do to help them work through their pain. One of the most profound books I have read is Mark Batterson’s Circle Maker. In it, he talks about circling dreams for our children. I bought a Bible for my son after his brother died and began circling promises for him:
- “I know you by name and you have favour with me (Exodus 33:12)
- “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14)
- “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107:28-30
I bought him the noteworthy Bible, which has blank pages throughout so I could write notes to him and share promises over his life and destiny. As a teenager, he may not be interested in biblical things, but as an adult he has promises to look back on and will marvel at the fulfillment of them. Nothing beats prayer when it comes to the well being of our children; however, there are other interventions we can use with them to calm overwhelming feelings.
Comfort, Worry and Peace
With young children they can create comfort bags. Allow them to use stickers, paints, pastels etc. to decorate their special bag or box and them have them go on a scavenger hunt to search for things that give them comfort. Some items they might include are a favourite smell such as lavender essential oil, a favourite teddy bear, favourite music, colouring items to draw about their feelings, a special journal to write in, a picture of someone who gives them comfort or a picture of a peaceful, beautiful place.
Children also like creating a peaceful places in the house where they can go when they are feeling overwhelmed with life. Within that space, have music, cushions, blankets, crafts, lego, favourite stuffed animals etc. Often children will create forts or even transform their closets into special sanctuaries. One of the greatest gifts we can give children is teaching them how to rest. Schedule a rest time every day where they go to be still.
Another great technique to help children manage their emotions is the use of a worry box. Have a worry box somewhere in the house where children can draw or write their worries and place them into the box. Just getting their worries out and containing them in a box can diminish their anxiety significantly. Some children like sharing their worries at the end of the day and some like to keep their thoughts private. It is up to the child whether or not they share. Don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to.
Mourning is Necessary
Teaching children to mourn means that we offer them many ways to share what is going on in their heart. Without an avenue to express their painful thoughts and feelings, they will not truly heal.
Some of the best resources on grief are from Alan Wolfelt
For adults going through the valley of sorrow, some helpful books include C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, Jerry Sittser’s A Grace Disguised, Phillip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts, and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament For A Son.