by Emily Parker
As parents we never want our children to feel pain. We want them to live in a happy bubble and to not have to know the struggles and darkness of the world. While we may try our best to shield our children from hurt, it is a reality they will all face at some point in their lives. Rather than trying to avoid hurt and pain I believe it's important to help prepare our children for it the best we can so that when it happens they have an action plan in place to help them cope.
While there are many times that we are able to prepare our children for upsetting circumstances, often the hardest hurts in life catch us by surprise. Our family has faced a few such difficult situations and I tried very hard to handle them in a way that would best be appropriate for my children. Here are some ways that we can help our kids cope with emotional "tough stuff" regardless of if they are prepared for it, or not:
1. Be Honest But Brief: My husbands cousin went missing a few summers ago. We were upset and concerned and our son was old enough to recognize that something was happening. We explained to him that he went hiking and got lost and that we were praying he would be found. We didn't go into more detail but were honest with him that we were concerned and let him know how we were coping with our concerns. It's okay for children to see us hurt and to know we are going through something painful. While at the time it's hard to see, those times are teachable moments for our children at how to handle difficulties in the future. If someone is sick, tell your child. Not only will it help prepare them for what may come (the person getting more sick or even passing away) but it will also allow them to be a light for that person. My son often prays about my mother-in-law who has rheumatoid arthritis. He understands that her body is forever altered and that she hurts and needs prayers. I know it's a blessing to my mother-in-law when she hears her grandchildren pray for her and God hears those prayers as well!
2. Give Them Space: Sometimes we are so worried about our children that we hoover over them. When they are hurting, give them space and time. Let them process what is going on and have some time to themselves to work through their own feelings. They may feel differently than you do and you don't want to put your emotions onto them. By giving them space they can sort through their emotions and it gives you a chance to think about how to handle further discussions with them.
3. Have Private Talks: Once they have that alone time then it's important to have some private time together. I am in the routine of a couple nights a week simply asking my son as I tuck him in at night if there is anything on his heart or mind that he wants to share. Sometimes it's "silly" things but sometimes it's been deeper concerns that I didn't even know were going on. When the whole family is experiencing a hurtful situation together that private time one-on-one with your child allows them to share their feelings openly and ask questions without worrying about what others will be thinking. With children of different ages they all may be at different maturity levels and by taking them aside one at a time it also ensures that younger ears won't hear things that they may not yet be ready to understand.
4. Let Them Know You Are There: It's important to remind our children again and again that we are here for them no matter what and in every situation they have us to count on. When we are hurting it's okay for them to know that. It helps let them know that it's okay for them to hurt too. We have a tough situation regarding my mom not being part of our lives and it was (and is) tough for me but was also tough for my son as he was old enough to understand that she wasn't around anymore. There were times where he and I would cry together over missing her. I let him know it was okay to be sad and to miss her and that I missed her too. While it's important for our children to see us show emotions, it's also important to remember that we are their source of comfort...they aren't ours! We have our spouses (or friends and family) to lean on and don't want to ever put that burden on our children.
5. Always Focus on Jesus: While we can provide comfort for our children at this stage in their lives, the reality is we won't always be here to be able to do that. Even as they grow up and move out and have their own lives, Jesus is with them wherever they go. Mommy is here to provide the hugs and kisses but the real healing comes from the Lord. When my husband's cousin went missing we prayed he'd be found and unfortunately he had died a couple days prior to search teams finding him. When I got the news I was with my children. I told my son right then and there that God answered our prayers. We are so thankful that he was found. And while we are sad that he's no longer here with us on Earth, we are rejoicing that he's with God in Heaven. Death is a scary thing for us all because there is so much unknown about it. But as a believer I don't want my children to fear death and try to keep the focus on the eternity in Heaven rather than on the absence of bodily presence on Earth. No matter what their tough situation may be (even something like bad dreams or being afraid of the dark) they can always lean on Jesus. It's so inspiringly to hear the prayers of children and it's a reminder to us that God always loves us and always wants to hear what's on our hearts, no matter what seemingly small concern it may be!
It is so, so hard to see our children in any kind of pain. We wish we could take it away from them and feel the pain for them rather than have them have to experience it. Pain is a part of life and there is so much personal growth that comes through tough situations. If we sheltered them from all the pain in the world then we would also be preventing them from experiencing that growth. By being there to help guide them through hard circumstances, we can also be there to rejoice with them when their hearts have healed and when they have learned something from what they have been through. "Tough stuff" is going to happen and the better we prepare ourselves and our children for it, the better we will all be able to cope when we face it!
Emily blogs at http://www.journeyofparenthood.com/