Talking with children about sickness and death

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Quite a sober title for a post, but such an important issue, as most adults will come into contact with children affected by sickness and death to some degree at some point.

Jesus Still Loves Joe
Jesus Still Loves Joe

Last year, I was privileged to be part of a team, most of whom were paediatric chaplains, who put together a series of books called Held in Hope. The books are a set of Christian stories for 3-7 year olds addressing some of the questions and concerns they may have if affected by sickness or death.

Each book has a pair of online videos, one with interactive questions to help children respond to the book.

My favourite one is Jesus Still Loves Joe

I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, but having spent a lot of time with an amazing team of experts working with sick and dying children every day, I picked up some tips on how we all might talk with children about sickness and death.

This is something parents and childrens workers might be interested in as most children will come across someone they know who is sick or dying at some point, and even Bible stories bring up issues of sickness and death (I calculated approximately 1/5 Bible stories as covered by the Scripture Union 4-year-through-the-Bible syllabus).

Here are a few tips on talking with children about sickness and death. Feel free to leave a comment with your own.

• Think about language: No jargon
• Listen. Listen. Listen
• Use closed/open questions – see how this works on the interactive videos
• Keep it age –appropriate: for young children, this means concrete and biological (see how the book says: Joe’s sister has died.)
• Deal with YOUR issues beforehand
• Deal with THEIR issues at the time
• Set up an understanding of sickness and death in advance of an emergency situation. I think Sam and his Special Book is a particularly good book for this as it looks at what we know about heaven and how we imagine it to be, exploring the Bible verse where Jesus says: “In my House are many rooms.”
• Stick to what we know. What does the Bible tell us?
• Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. We don’t know everything. (Again, see Sam’s Special Book)
• Use language like: “I’ve always felt that…”
• Have resources ready. You can find copies of the books available here
• Remember: We have a redemptive God. Don’t loose hope.