You feel so had for them. Your nephew faces a learning disability and you wonder if he'll succeed at school. The child you've liked since she was a pre-schooler has just been diagnosed with cancer at age eight. Another divorce is breaking the heart of your daughter's best friend. Your own child is reeling from a former friend's announcement that he's no longer cool enough to sit with the friends he's known since kindergarten.
You feel so bad. You'd do anything to take away their pain.
But feeling bad won't take away their pain. And trying to erase the pain with words like, "Everything will be okay," makes a child feel invisible.
So what's the answer? Walk with the child through her pain. Then equip her to manage the tough stuff she faces. It won't be easy, but it's a whole lot easier than abandoning a child to suffer alone.
Start by recognizing that the world of childhood is far from trouble-free. Learning disabilities, cancer, divorce, death, and damaged friendships haunt the happy days we want our children to have. We'd like to wish these away. We'd like to pretend they don't happen. Bu the tough stuff is reality. It's part of this imperfect world we live in (Romans 8:19-21; Revelation 21:1-4). So face it down together. As you accompany your children through the pain, you become the vehicle through whom God shows His love. Children feel less lonely when they have a hand to hold. They feel God's very real hugs and very needed attention.
Continue by equipping your children to manage their crises. There are ways around every tough circumstance. So find those ways with God's help. Invite teachers and fellow parents to show you strategies that overcome your nephew's learning disability. Ask nurses for distractions during painful cancer treatments so your friend can get back to the fun of life. Teach relationship skills so kids can get along with new siblings in their blended families. List ten positive ways to respond to the cruel friends who insist on ugly words rather than encouraging ones.
In any tough experience assure children that their feelings make sense. Anger, confusion, and feeling betrayed are fitting responses to the tough stuff of this world. Give outlets for these powerful feelings so kids can face their tough stuff rather than be eaten alive.
As you hear children tell you their stories, it's okay to say, "I understand." You can't say, "I know how you feel," unless you've been through exactly the same experience. But you can listen closely enough to hear how that child feels about this experience this time.
Even when you haven't been through these things }ourself, you can understand the feelings. You know what being sad, mad, worried, or confused feels like. Let your understanding of the feelings, combined with a willingness to listen to specific circumstances, provide the cure your friend needs.
Finally, just enjoy the children. Kids going through tough stuff are kids first. Help with the tough stuff, but don't stay there. Ask about things other than the learning disability, the cancer, the blended family, and the friendship squabble. Share the good stuff of life as well as the bad. And stick with each other through thick and thin, confident that life is worth living no matter the obstacles.
When you feel bad about a tough time a child is going through, let your sadness prompt you to loving action. No matter how personally painful it may be for you, willingly walk with your child through the pain. Refuse to abandon her to suffer or cope alone. Add your strength to his. Do the practical things that make a real difference. Whether you're a child, parent, teacher, church workers, or another adult who cares about children, there is always something you can do to help. Start with the following M.I.N.I.S.T.R.Y. actions. By putting feet on your care, you'll help all types of to ugh stuff.
Make certain you hear. Rather than assume you know what your friend is thinking and feeling, invite your friend to tell you. Be the yearnedfor-friend or parent who wants to hear the details. Questions that show your interest include:
- Will you tell me about it?
- What's school like this year?
- What do you think about what's happening to you?
- What makes you so mad?
- What makes you happy and sad these days?
- How would you change things if you could?
- What actions have you tried to help with that problem?
Incarnate the Word, Rather than just quote Scripture, live it. As you give homework help, deliver kid-friendly meals, do laundry, teach friendship skills, and keep hearing the details, you show the Romans 8:28 good that God continues to give even during crises. As you go along with your friend to cancer treatments or therapy sessions, you show the Romans 8:37-39 truth that God never abandons us. As you accept every feeling including uncomfortable anger and scary questions, you show the Ephesians 4:25-27 truth that emotions point us to actions God wants us to take.
Notes are more great ways to contact between visits. Sometimes visits are too intense during the height of the tough stuff. So leave answering-machine messages, backdoor gifts, cookie bouquets, letters, coloring books, floss for friendship bracelets, and more. You don't have to be there in person to express God's love, but doing nothing makes a family feel abandoned.
I can care no matter how much it hurts. Too many people avoid children who are going through tough stuff because it hurts them. They can't figure out why innocent children have to go through such agonizing stuff. But when we refuse to express care, children suffer alone. You can help kids face down the tough stuff because God will equip you (Philippians 4:13, 19) and because He Himself will one day wipe away all our tears (Revelation 21:4).
Show others how. Ephesians 4 reminds us that we are equippers to prepare God's people for works of service. Caring during tough stuff is one of these services. So mobilize a caring team in your church, made up of both kids and adults. Show them how to listen, befriend, walk together with simple words like, "This is Terry. Will you show him the ropes and let him sit by you during class?" or "Let's each wrap a gift for Jenny. Then she can open one each time she has a chemo treatment." Help your team accept tears as signs of love ( John 11:35, 36). Prompt them to be strong by sharing the pain rather than pushing it away (Romans 12:15). Show them how to give the practical help kids need, such as some ptivacy, some company, help with homework, invitations to events, lack of labels, and more (Matthew 25:21-46).
Teach kids about it. Children are often cruel when they don't understand. When a nurse came to explain Emily's cancer fight, her fourth-grade classmates said things like, "Why will her hair fall out?" and "My cat had leukemia and it died." The nurse was able to explain that the hair falls out because chemo goes after fast-growing cells and hair is one of the fastest growing. She also explained that, though cats die of leukemia, kids usually survive. This group of children then took up for Emily when a child in another class, who did not know about Emily's cancer, made fun of her hat. They educated children. They demonstrated that as children understand they show care. Invite the parents, teachers, medical professionals, and others to tell you what they want you to know and what they'd like you to do. Be a good gossip by spreading the word.
Remember. Mark on your calendar the day of the learning challenge, the date of cancer diagnosis, the remarriage date, the friendship pain, the birth, death, and more. Then give care in the form of a card, a call, a personal touch: "I'm praying with you as the proficiency tests approach." For continuing crises, repeat the care in two weeks, two months, one year, and annually after that. "I remember that your baby sister died this month, and T want you to know that she and you matter to me."
You really love the child rather than feel sorry for him or her. Kids going through tough stuff don't want to be set apart, admired, or treated with kid gloves. They want to be loved. So cuddle, listen to, and enjoy them. See them as the delightful individuals they arc, and equip them to give as well as receive.
Important: Hurting kids are not heroes; they feel lonely and isolated. Refuse to isolate them more by putting them on a spiritual pedestal or admiring them from the pulpit.. This urges church members to feel different from them and hesitate to approach them with normal friendship. Instead, teach your church members to live Romans 12:15 and John 11:35, 36 with concrete expressions of care, by hurting along with them, and by giving practical help.