Thursday, February 23, 2012

Talking to young children about death

Many people struggle with talking to little children about death, heaven, or even Easter because it means discussing Christ's death on the cross.  I have friends who are very good parents who have avoided even introducing those words to their children because they fear that they are not emotionally ready to deal with such painful things, and I can't say I necessarily disagree with that.  However, my children, and many others as well, encounter and even are born into situations where they must learn about death sooner than their parents might wish.  

One of the last pictures of my mom
Since my mom died right before my first child was born, Susie has never known her grandmother.  When she was a baby, I wondered how I would tell her about my mom, or if she would wonder why she had 2 grandfathers but just one grandmother.  I mentioned my mom, told her that she was named after her, but one day I met my upstairs neighbor in the hallway and she told me her mom was dying.  I absolutely broke down in front her and my kids, and later that afternoon, when Susie said "Mommy was sad when she was talking to Miss Jodi" I knew I had to tell her.  I had to tell her that my mom got sick and died.  And that I miss her.  And then I got out a book about Heaven and we read it together (I helped the words along a bit -- we were somewhat just enjoying the pictures).  And now she knows.  And we can talk about it.  And we do quite a bit. Grandmommy is in heaven.  She used to live at Grandad's house but then she died and now she lives with Jesus.

Here is the beautiful part for me: my mom is now known to her.  Susie recognizes her pictures and talks about Grandmommy.  The other day she was pretending about her.  We still haven't even pulled out the home videos, but when we do, I know she will be even more present in her mind. And when we visit my childhood home next, I will be able to point out even more special things that I know she will latch onto.

When Susie heard me say that Miss Jodi's mom was dying she said "like Jesus died on the cross."  I am so thankful that her first reference with death is Christ's death -- because he triumphed over death!  And it is because of his death that we who have lost our loved ones can have hope -- and can pass this hope on to our children when we teach them about death.  I am not suggesting being overly morbid or trying to push children into emotional situations they are not ready for, but I am talking about creating a category for my children in which we weep but we hope in Christ when we are facing a difficult situation.  This is why I bring my kids to a visitation -- perhaps not yet to see the casket unless it was someone they knew particularly well, and we haven't had that situation yet -- but to see what mourning looks like to people who hope in the gospel. 

The truth is, there is not an age in which we can discuss death and not feel the sting it brings.  One of the elders at my church, Bruce Ware,  lost his mother shortly before I lost mine and he told me "Gretchen, my mother was 90 years old and ready to see her Lord.  But she was my mom. And I miss her tremendously because she was a good mother."  It is also true that we cannot control when and if death will encounter our children -- it is outside our control.  Your child may lose a pet, or a grandparent, may deal with a miscarried younger sibling or may witness the sickness and loss of a family or church friend, as many children at our church witnessed when our music pastor Chip Stam battled cancer and died. My encouragement would be to begin at a small age to explain just a little bit, and be open with them when someone is sick or passes away.  And even more important -- be sure to teach your children, even very very young ones, that Christ died once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God.  It is the ONLY way we can also then explain that we have hope that one day we will be able to say "oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory?"

So I would encourage you in the upcoming Easter season, to use Holy Week as a time to instruct your little ones about Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the grave!  Teach them songs, read them books (you may want to be choosey about the pictures so they aren't overwhelmed with images of Christ's death they aren't ready for), and celebrate that He is ALIVE!  In the upcoming weeks I hope to post more ideas for the little children during Holy Week, but for now, here are several posts I wrote last year when Susie was almost two.  Please leave me a comment if you have input or ideas for me!  

Little hands

Saw this little poem on Pinterest and wanted to post it on here -- it's such a good little prayer that moms of young children really and truly need to pray.  I don't know the author or anything, or I'd give the credit!

Oh give me patience when wee hands
Tug at met with their small demands.
And give me gentle and smiling eyes.
Keep my lips from hasty replies.
And let not weariness, confusion or noise
Obscure my vision of life's fleeting joys.
So when in years to come my house is still -- 
No bitter memories its room may fill.
This messy activity will not always fill my rooms! :*)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine Books and Reading with Chip

I took Susie to storytime at our local bookstore on Saturday, and she had a great time listening to Valentine's stories, eating cookies and making a little craft.  The store is called A Reader's Corner and just moved to a new location on Frankfort Avenue, which is great!  They give each child a free book for attending the reading. . . WOW!  When I flipped through the basket of free books, I was delighted to come across a little flocked book about a deer named Tuffer from 1959.  It has a chipmunk in the story, so I knew it was the one for us.  I knew that if I took Susie to the bookstore, I'd probably let her choose a book, but I ended up choosing one for Chip as well. :)  Sus picked a Strawberry Shortcake Valentine book, which is ok, but I found a cute board book called "Kiss Kiss" for Chippy.  The baby hippo forgets to kiss his mommy until he sees the other baby animals kissing their mommies. . . ohhhhh, so cute!  This is a CHIEF reason to shop at your local bookstores!  They will have a variety of books that you didn't even know about, and it is ohhhh so fun to discover a new book.

I've tried to be more intentional about reading to Chip and giving him books to play with.  I read to Susie quite a bit at his age, and sometimes he gets left out because Susie chooses longer stories that he can't always enjoy, or that he wants to grab and bite or tear.  As you can imagine, Susie is not a fan of this!  So here are my little tips about reading to a baby when he is your second child:

1. Read during 1 on 1 time.  Chippy has time alone with me in the afternoon while Susie is still napping.  That's when I give him books to play with and read him little board books where I let him turn the pages, or take it away from me altogether.  It is book exploration, and it will lead to him learning how to turn pages, and enjoy the pictures on his own.  

2. When you have together storytime, try to situate the baby like this -- have him sit by older children, maybe on a blanket, and give him a small book to hold, or maybe a toy to chew on.  Then sit across from the children, and hold up the book facing them.  Chip has caught on quickly to direct his attention to the pictures and turning pages, so we have enjoyed several medium length books like this.  I wouldn't do our Winnie the Pooh collection just yet, but something with lots of big pictures and frequent page turns.  He, at 9 months, is seeing that reading together is something we enjoy as a family.  I include him in the questions and sound making (for example -- "can you make a kiss sound Chippy?  Can you make a kiss sound Susie?").  Of course he doesn't answer but Susie does and I do it, and often he grins at us.  He will join in before long.  I don't want to just ignore him as if he's not sitting there reading with us.

side by side exploration
3. Side by side exploration -- this is where I give them both books to look at while they are playing together.  This way he can see what she's reading, and have something of his own.  Now sometimes this will fall into him trying to get her book, or her deciding to take his to read to him (which he gets ticked about, understandably), so I have to facilitate this time.  Generally it works well, and he will explore his book while she "reads the pictures" of her own.  Here's a precious picture I snapped of them reading together this morning.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine Fun with Toddlers

QUITE a bit of the cute Valentine stuff out there is for school-aged kids, which is understandable of course.  But since I told Susie about Valentine's Day, she has been randomly sharing the news with just about everyone we meet:  "Guess What?  It's going to be Valentine's Day and we're going to make a heart cake for Daddy!"  She's also going to have a small party with some of her friends, and I wanted to have a few special activities for them to do together.  Today she had over a friend who can't come to the party, and we did a little test run of the activities I came up with -- here's what they did!

1. Valentine Storytime -- we read Biscuit's Valentine's Day and Snuggle Puppy.  Chippy read with us, and they all seemed to enjoy the books.  We also sang "Oh How I Love Jesus" and told all the people we love (basically listing all family members).

2. Sweethearts Color Sorting -- I saw a paper version of this, but it seemed like a big pain to print and cut out lots of colored paper hearts, when instead you could just use the real candy, which is quite a bit. . . sweeter!  I was impressed that the girls caught on to the activity immediately (they are both several months from being 3), and maybe even more impressive, they didn't really try to eat the candies!  There were a few licks involved, but mostly they concentrated on the task.  We did it twice, and then I let them eat some of the candies.

3.  Hide-the-hearts -- I made felt heart bean bags to do a tossing game, but it was a bit out of their league, so instead I had them go in the other room while I hid them in the living room, Easter-egg-hunt-style.  You could obviously do this with paper hearts or candy or something as well, but bean bags worked well, because they prop up against things well.  

4. Heart picnic -- I spread out a heart blanket and fed them heart-shaped peanut butter sandwiches and strawberries.  Very simple, of course, but something about a picnic makes it SPECIAL. :)  I think for Susie's party, I will pull out her picnic table that we have stored away during the winter and have our indoor picnic on that.  With multiple kids, it will be a little less crazy.  

5. T-shirts -- it seems terribly popular to dress up for Valentine's day in a special outfit, so I did little applique shirts for my kids.  I actually just used plain shirts they already had, so it was very cheap!  I think they turned out super cute!