Some mornings before my high schooler heads off to school, he’ll grab the newspaper and read at the breakfast table.
What kind of things show up on the front page? Hurricanes. School shootings. Natural disasters. Terrorism. Crime.
Children are more exposed to losses through the 24-hour news cycle than generations previous. Life is filled with both good and evil – it has always been that way. It’s our job as parents to help give our children a healthy perspective about loss. But the modern parent often avoids pain or minimizes stress in order to protect. Protection is good but overprotection keeps our kids from growing strong. You want to send your child out wearing a bike helmet, not wrapped from head to toe in bubble wrap!
Consider a tree. Trees need wind to blow against them because that’s what causes their root systems to grow deeper. The harsher the wind, the stronger the tree. If you have a tree which has easy access to water, plenty of sunshine, and no wind, it might look beautiful from the outside. But on the inside, the wood would be weak. Instead of tight rings forged through adversity, the tree rings are widely spaced. This kind of tree cracks under pressure, rendering it useless.
When we as parents rescue our children from any sense of loss, we are undermining their maturation process. Of course, we want to provide our children with comfort whenever we can, but we must also welcome loss as a natural part of life and growing up. That’s because:
Loss can be turned into strength. When you lose something, it can become a stepping stone in your child’s life. Let’s say your child ran for student council but didn’t win. That’s an opportunity for your child to rejoice with the winner, learn from the experience, and pat himself or herself on the back for trying. Winning and losing are a part of life, and the sooner your child experiences that, the better.
Imagine wandering through the desert for 40 years like the children of Israel. And you thought the latest family road trip was challenging! In Joshua 4:8, we read that the Israelites took 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan and carried them over with them to their camp where they put them down. Those stones were a memorial to what God had done – cutting off the waters of the Jordan River for the children of Israel to pass through.
When your family goes through a trial and comes out on the other side, get a memorial stone to remember. It could be a literal stone or another item. It could be a celebration with a photograph acting as your memorial stone. Turn your losses into strength with God’s help.
Loss helps your child become more empathetic. In our selfie-driven world, we are less mindful of other people. Yet you want to raise a child who will notice others and express empathy when others are hurting. If your child has lost a grandparent or parent, they will be able to identify with others who experience a similar loss. If everything always goes your child’s way, he or she will be hard pressed to identify with others who are hurting.
Lastly, loss brings God’s near. When my husband and I lost a baby in my womb at 26 weeks, we were broken and sad. But I can look back at that season from years ago and remember how near God was to me during my time of mourning. Every worship song touched my heart. People came and prayed exactly what I need to hear to boost my faith. Loss brings God near. As it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
When your child experiences loss, don’t try to minimize it or make it disappear. Mourn with them. Pray with them, then watch with expectation. Your little tree is about to have a growth spurt.
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of several books including Parents Rising: 8 Strategies for Raising Kids Who Love God, Respect Authority, and Value What’s Right. and Calm, Cool, and Connected: 5 Digital Habits for a More Balanced Life. Learn more at ArlenePellicane.com.