This grieving child prayer is for adults whose child has experienced the death of someone they love. Often we’re not sure how to help a grieving child pray because we’re not sure what to do or say. Here are some helpful guidelines.
1. Expect your child to behave like a much younger child emotionally, socially or physically after the shock of grief.
One thing adults can do is to remember when working with children , is to realize that it is normal for children and teens to regress in emotional, physical and social skills 3 to 5 years. Example a 10 year old child, may begin acting like they did when they were 5 or six years old. In talking with our grieving children we need to remember regression of social , emotional and even physical skills is a natural response to shock and grief.
These regressions are a natural way for children ( teens are different and we will discuss helping teens in a separate article) to “create a safe place” to deal with the unimaginable. This regression tells the adults “how to support the child.” Go back to the 10 year old child. Lets pretend this child at age three when not getting their way “sulked, withdrew, and cried.” This would be our internal processing child. The one who gets both quiet and snuggly, but who will not talk. During their grief process, as they are again withdrawing, silently attending the service, possibly wetting the bed at night, seeking a safe lap to snuggle in, the child is grieving in a natural healthy way.
2. Respond to the child’s behavior with the things that helped comfort them at an earlier age.
As the child regresses to that safe place where they were taken care of, the adults need to respond just as they did when the child was younger. Snuggle and let the child choose when to get off the lap. Be quietly present , allow the child to talk and listen. Talk in concrete words. The ways we will help a child grieve, is different because children do grieve and think differently than adults or even teens.
3. Realize that children grieve and think differently than adults.
Children grieve differently than adults for many reasons. First of all, children have a closer and sweeter understanding of spiritual things. Spiritually children are closer to the “spiritual world “ of wonder, imagination, and a belief that the world is a safe and happy place. Children are also quicker to forgive and faster to move on with compassion for those they love as well as those who have hurt them. There are even stories of young children who are new big sisters/brothers sitting quietly at the crib of the newborn and saying:” tell me again about how beautiful heaven is…tell me what his voice was like, I’ve forgotten”.
This mysterious connection children have to the spiritual is connected to their undeveloped brain where by they can live in total fantasy and make believe. Unfortunately this ability to live in fantasy and in ability to separate reality and fact from fantasy makes most adults ignore the real grieving needs and natural process of children, leaving children with little appropriate support and a life time of unhealthy grieving.
4. Realize that children may take what you say literally so choose simple, truthful words.
Secondly, children believe what adults say to them. Children also live in the moment. It is not unusual for a child whose parent has died, to ask if they can go outside and play with their friends. This spiritual understanding of life also plays into the innocent belief in everything adults say.
If an adult, in explaining stomach cancer tells a child that “grandmom has spaghetti tumors in their tummy” to explain the cancer, that child will never eat spaghetti or any other noodle again. In a similar way, to tell a child “Momie went to sleep and woke up in heaven” will cause the child to not sleep, and when they do sleep have night mares about the boggey man coming to get them.”
Because children live in the moment, they do not “ put the dots together” between what they have over heard adults say and the last time they were with the person who died. We adults need to gently and carefully help them put the story together with the facts with their feelings.
5. Use a counselor or a book for children to help you communicate with your child about their feelings.
One way I work with parents/adults in helping children understand death is to color. We use a gingerbread person and think of our happiest memory. We notice where we feel that memory and color on the gingerbread person yellow where we felt happy. Each feeling is then identified in a same way. We talk about how all these feelings are normal when we are missing someone who has died. Yes we have to use the correct words. Mommie died. Mommie is dead. Mommie died of cancer, she cannot come back.
This is because a child’s developmental process is still ongoing, unlike an adult, whose brain and physical development are complete. Adults have the full ability to think logically and theoretically at the same time. Children don’t. That is why as adults who are grieving and supporting the children in their grief, we need to remember our children do not have the adult ability to understand grief, yet they have a marvelous ability to trust us as we help them. To help us, help them, there are many wonderful books about death, grief dying that we can read with and to our children. All that we do must be at the emotional and social level of our children developmental abilities.
6. Use prayers with children that focus on their relationship with the deceased and their current understanding of God.
That is why the prayers we pray with grieving children should center on the specific relationship the child has with the deceased. It also would take into account the child’s relationship with and understanding of God. Less helpful to children are prayers that center on abstract ideas like “comfort, peace, protection.” An example of children prayer may be something like: “ Dear Jesus, we are so confused. We know you love us, and you love mommie. We cannot understand why Mommie died. Help us to remember how very much mommie loved me, and how she loved you. Thank you Amen.
7. Create a space and time for your grieving child that fits your child’s temperament
When working with parents whose child is experiencing grief over the death of a parent or “parent figure” or sibling, I ask the parent how the child reacted to not getting their way when they were 3 years old.
The reason is most children are “real with their reactions to disappointment, fear, anger” at age three. Most children at age three have one of two responses. One is to get quiet, cry, pout, go to their room with a comfort blanket or lovey. They will behave in some predictable way that is a way of internal processing that may seem like withdrawl. Another common response is to cry, wail, kick, throw things, or do some sort of outward expressions of their feelings.
Both of these responses are natural and normal reactions to loss and grief.
I encourage parents to create a safe place to talk with their child that allows for the child’s natural temperament to be expressed. A comfort blanket or lovie with pillows for the snuggly child who needs to have snuggles and space away and alone. Lots of pillows and soft toys in a safe room for the child who throws things, kicks and screams. Parents who can be emotionally with the child, providing a safe place to let the child express their emotions will be able to provide the safety that helps the child to grieve in healthy ways.
Disappointment, feelings of anger, unfairness, fear, guilt, feeling misunderstood, and feeling isolated are all normal feelings children feel when facing death and grief.
8. Draw on the positive things you believe when praying with a grieving child
To build a prayer that supports the child in this tender time of sorrow and grief, adults need to know what they believe about life, death, eternity, and forgiveness. Any prayer or support offered the child must come from the honest tender faith of the adults who are supporting the child, today tomorrow and forever.
Obviously death causes all of us to question what we believe. I will often spend time with the parents/caregivers giving them time to talk about their questions, their grief and feelings in a safe place to express where they are. We do a similar grief work that I will teach them to use with their children. This so that as a family parent/caregiver and child(children) can together grieve in a healthy way, the death of the person they loved. Only after doing this work as adults ourselves, can we set aside your ( our) questions and ask yourself what positive things you believe. It doesn’t have to be profound, nor does it need to answer all of life’s questions. It simply needs to come out of a place of love, hope and faith. For it is from this place we will best be able to support our child ( children) in their grief.
Remember that Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, for to such as these belongs the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:14) Think of yourself as simply bringing the child into the presence of Jesus through prayer.
Grieving Child Prayer
The following is a prayer to pray with a grieving child.
Dear Jesus, we are so sad right now. We love (person who died) so very much and we will miss them a lot. We know you love us, we know (person who died) loved you and you loved them. Take care of them and take care of us when we miss them. Thank you for those who love us and who loved (person who died). Amen
9. Provide a safe place to grieve and remember
Think of ways to provide a safe place for the child and adult to cry, remember, laugh, hope, grieve with the strength of a faith in the risen Savior, Jesus The Christ.
If you have a child that is outwardly expressive, think of the safest loving place in your home. Is it your big bed where the whole family piles in? How about the TV /Family room where popcorn and movies take place with lots of snuggle room on the floor?
Add to this safe place lots of pillow, move out furniture so that a temper tantrum can take place without harm to the child.
If you have a child that seeks to be alone, provide all the same comfy pillows and soft places for a temper tantrum, with easy access to a safe exit to their room where you have already made the area safe by removing sharp objects and locking the windows. This way the child can “retreat to the safety of their room” as they process their grief in their own way. Internalizing their grief without withdrawing totally from the family.
Helping the child build a prayer book or journal of all the things and memories the child experienced with the deceased person helps the child remember and process what the person means to them.
10. Remember that grief does not have a set timetable.
Grief is not a step by step check list that brings healing. When a child experiences the death of a loved one, they will miss that person and perhaps grieve that person all of their lives. As adults supporting grieving children, we can help them grieve as they grow and develop into healthy happy adults, by allow the natural healing process to happen throughout the child’s life time encouraging the child to continue to express their thoughts and feelings about the person who died.
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Copyright Barbara Ingram 2017. All rights reserved.