How to Use Scripture to Encourage Grieving Kids

Allie Boman

Saturday, June 15, 2019

What do you say when nothing can make it better? A child who has lost a loved one cannot be comforted — at least not in a lasting way — with a trip to the ice cream shop. And when sickness or injury has changed a child’s life indefinitely, he needs more than a pat on the head or a movie to distract him.

Divorce or separation can create turmoil and uncertainty in kids, even when they perceive the change to be positive. They need to grieve what might have been and the loss of familiarity.

Other life situations — even positive, healthy ones — can fill a child with grief. When a family moves to a new city, children experience a different kind of grief than their parents. This move was not their idea, they probably had no say in it, and they have less access to technology to stay in touch with their friends. In all of these situations, one of the best things we can do is help them find comfort in Scripture.

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Kids Grieve Differently From Adults

Children tend to grieve in spurts, acting fine in one moment and grieving intensely in the next.  According to social worker Susan Thomas, “adults have one foot in grief and one foot on the outside, but kids jump in and out of grief,” quoted in “How Children Grieve.”

When a child has jumped into grief for a moment, allow them to express themselves fully, even though their sudden burst of feeling may seem to have come from nowhere.

It may take a long time for a child to begin expressing grief, long after the adults in their lives have gotten past the worst of it. They also grieve differently as they go through the phases of development, missing their loved ones’ participation in their life events, or otherwise experiencing the ramifications of their loss.

Children crave the normalcy and structure that make the world feel right for them.

Because of this, even everyday disappointments can feel like true grief to a child. Maybe their soccer game was cancelled, or they missed the field trip because of the stomach flu. Kids highly value that which is known or expected.

They also live in the moment and have a hard time feeling that the future is real. So they sometimes grieve things or situations that seem like no big deal to us.

This day-to-day grief can be a perfect time to comfort them with Scripture (even though it might seem like overkill!) so that they learn how to lean on God when they’re sad.

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Comfort Kids on Their Terms

When parents or others who care for kids see a child grieving, our first instinct is to “make it better.”  But some hurts go deeper than we can reach. Those times are perfect opportunities to teach them to look to God.

However, giving trite advice or shallow comfort, even in the form of Scriptures, can make a child feel misunderstood, rather than comforted. Proverbs puts it this way:

“Singing songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound.” (Proverbs 25:20)

Take time to mourn with the child, allowing them to feel sad or angry or despondent, even if you don’t feel their response is reasonable or justified.

“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

As we’re listening and empathizing, we can much more effectively share comforting Scripture and thoughts. That goes for anyone, not just kids!

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Things to Keep in Mind When Comforting Kids

Listen carefully and ask open-ended questions. For example: “What did you think when you heard that we’re moving?” or “What worries you about having diabetes?” Consider using a feelings chart to help them articulate what’s going on inside.

Validate their feelings. Feelings are not morally right or wrong. Our response to them can be healthy or unhealthy, but the feelings themselves need to be respected. After you’ve listened, offer to share something that has helped you. Try to remember a time when you felt the way they are feeling – that may not be the same way you’re feeling now.

Choose one simple Scripture to share at a time. Reading a whole chapter is not likely to help, unless it’s an engaging story in a children’s Bible. Psalm 23 is a great passage to share. The whole poem is beautiful and relevant! Consider reading it aloud and asking the child what part they like the best. Other examples include:

  • John 16:33: “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”
  • Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning!”

Discuss the Scripture with them. Ask what they think about it and try to get creative with your questions. (Ex: “Who in this story do you think you’re most like?” or “What do you think it means when it says…”) You can also consider having them draw a picture in response to the Scripture.

Pray with the child using the language in the Scripture. (Ex from Isaiah 49:16: God, you have written John’s name on the palm of your hands. Thank you for caring so much about what he is going through right now.)

When choosing a Scripture to share with a child, look for imagery and illustrations, emotion words, descriptions of God’s character, simple vocabulary and a readable translation like the New Living Translation.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Eye For Ebony

Suggested Scriptures

God knows and understands:

  • Isaiah 49:16: "I have written your name on the palm of my hands."
  • Psalm 56:8: "You keep track of all my sorrows; You have collected all my tears in your bottle; You have recorded each one in your book."
  • Psalm 46:1-2: "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea."

God is with you no matter what:

  • Isaiah 43:1-2: "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you."
  • Exodus 33:14: "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
  • Proverbs 18:10: "The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe."

Even though things are bad now, God has promised there is good coming:

  • Hebrews 12:2: "Because of the joy awaiting him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor before God’s throne."
  • 2 Peter 3:13: "But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness."
  • 1 Corinthians 15:25-26: "For Jesus must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death."

Ultimately, it’s the Holy Spirit who will comfort the kids in our lives. He knows and cares for each one, and he has a deeper level of access to their hearts than we do. But God loves to work through his Word and his people. You can be confident that he will be with you as you help kids look to Jesus when they’re grieving.  

We’ll close with some pointers from the author’s children, answering the question, “How can you help kids feel better when they’re sad?”

John, age 9:

  • Invite friends over to help them get their mind off their problems.
  • If they’re sad because they don’t have any friends, you can get them something new to do.

Judah, age 7:

  • Give them a hug.
  • If someone’s sad at school, you could sit next to them and play a game.  

Thea, age 4:

  • If you yelled at them or were mean, say sorry.
  • Tell them you’ll be their best friend.  
  • You could get them flowers.

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Allie Boman is a wife, mom, follower of Jesus and freelance writer in the Chicago area. She served for fifteen years with Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and studied classical piano in college. She loves to cook ethnic food and explore new places with her family. She’d love to hear from you! Allie@AllieBoman.com