Loss and grief, just like joy and celebration, are part of life.
Throughout your years as a children’s minister, you’ll undoubtedly
cross paths with a tragedy involving one or more of your ministry’s
children. Whether it’s the death of a marriage or the unthinkable
death of a child, it’s vital to be prepared in your role to support
grieving children and families. Even though our human nature drives
us to avoid sad topics such as divorce, death, terminal illness,
and miscarriage, these very situations can be your most important
moments in ministry. Your response — and demonstration of God’s
presence — may be what helps see a family through its darkest
hour. We asked experts to offer guidelines on what to do, what to
say, and how to best support families and children experiencing
trauma. Read on for their insights.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 40 to 50 percent of
marriages will end in divorce. Split families and dual households
are a reality for many of the children in your ministry. But how do
you help a child and his or her family in the midst of divorce?
Linda Ranson Jacobs, one of the forefront leaders in the area of
children in single parent families and children in crisis and the
executive director of DivorceCare for Kids (www.dc4k.org), offers this
- Children need acceptance. Children in a newly divorced family
need attention and loving arms. They need to know that they’re safe
and that the church will welcome them regardless of their
circumstances. Many children have expressed that they feel cast
aside by the church after the divorce. Call kids weekly. They may
miss a lot due to visitation schedules, but they still need to know
they belong to your church and that you welcome them — no matter
how many times they miss.
- Single parents need support. Single parents need understanding.
Almost every newly separated or divorced single parent is under a
tremendous amount of stress. Some are almost incapable of parenting
at this time, so walk beside them and be there to assist with
day-to-day living — offering to pick up groceries, taking care of
the children while the parent looks for a job, being on the
emergency call list at the child’s daycare or school.
- Families need practical help. Sometimes families need financial
help, but be careful not to take away their dignity. Many children
are embarrassed by their parents’ divorce and they’re cognizant
that they don’t have the finances to take part in many church
activities. Provide “backstage” ways they can take part in all
activities through anonymous gifts. Remember that even purchasing a
workbook for a Bible study may be out of the reach of some single
parents. Also, help kids purchase gifts for their parents on their
birthdays or holidays. Imagine how disconcerting it is to be a
child of 8 or 9 with no way of providing a gift for your parent’s
- Families need prayer. Pray, pray, pray for divorcing families.
Learn about children of divorce. Develop an empathetic heart toward
these families. Help other adults understand the loss these
children and families feel.
- Watch your boundaries. It’s inappropriate to try to take over a
single parent’s life. Don’t pity children from single-parent homes.
They need your empathy, not your sympathy. It’s also very
inappropriate to try and arrange the single parent with dates.
- Avoid promoting false hope. Don’t pray with the child that a
parent will return home. Instead, pray for practical things. Little
girls worry about their daddies’ practical needs. Little boys worry
about their moms being strong enough to take care of things.
(That’s great insight!)
“I’m so sorry this is happening to you. How can I help?” “It’s
not your fault that your Mom/Dad left.” “You are loved, and I’ll
always be here to talk to you and be your friend.”
“You’ll get over this.” “You’re better off.” “He/She was a loser
anyway. You can do much better.” “God never gives you more than you
can handle.” “I understand what you’re going through.” “If you just
have enough faith, your Mom/Dad/spouse will come back.”