By Delores Smyth
When our children are little we cherish their every milestone, from their first smile to their first word to their first step. During their more difficult “firsts” — such as their first cold or first tooth — we rush to the doctor and scour baby articles in search of ways to heal our kids and make them more comfortable. With tender care, we strive to make our children feel supported and loved.
As our children grow, we take a step back and watch as they meet milestones on their own — their first day of school, their first group of friends, their first summer job, their first romantic relationship, and — to our dismay — their first heartbreak. Watching our kids spread their wings toward independence is a bittersweet endeavor, leaving parents grappling with feelings of excitement and trepidation.
When our children experience heartache, it can be hard for them to verbalize what they’re feeling. Although it’s normal for kids to feel sad or exhibit mood swings after a disappointment, long-term negative feelings that affect a child’s ability to function normally may be a sign of depression. While parents should contact a professional if their child is experiencing prolonged depression, parents can show their child support by patiently encouraging hope in Christ after a heartbreak.
One way to promote such hope in times of heartache is to look to Scripture. Just as we educate ourselves on how to treat our children’s physical bumps and scrapes when they’re little, we can comfort our children with the healing balm of Scripture when life leaves them with emotional bruises. In fact, research shows that sharing your faith with your children on a regular basis makes them more hopeful about their future. But what does Scripture specifically say to those struggling with a broken heart?
Here are 3 types of heartbreak that children go through along with several Scriptures to help lift their spirits.
1 | End of a Friendship
You’ll never forget the first time your child eagerly rushes into a birthday party or playdate with her friends and bursts into a flurry of instant chatter. The bonds of friendship are more than simply an enjoyable way to pass the time. In fact, friendships play a significant role in our children’s lives. Research shows that friendships can help children develop social and emotional skills, experience a sense of belonging, learn how to communicate effectively, feel less stress, cope with transition, and have higher self-esteem.
Your children may form friendships that last a lifetime, but most of their friendships will be transitory. Whether a friendship ends because of an argument, a change in behavior, or a move or transition, friendship “breakups” can leave kids feeling betrayed and lonely.
During these moments of despair over a lost friendship, it’s important to sympathize with your child and reassure her that God has great things planned, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). Parents can also help their children put the friendship loss in perspective by assuring their kids that “this too shall pass” and once it does, God “will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Pet. 5:10).
2 | Death of a Loved One
The passing of a loved one — whether a relative, friend, or family pet — can be crushing to children. How the child reacts can depend on his age and how close the child was to the deceased. Some children react with questions and confusion about the concept of death, while others react with grief, worry, or sometimes even anger.
It’s important for parents to give children time to mourn and talk about (or not talk about) the deceased in their own way and at their own pace. While the child is processing his grief, it can be comforting to pray together, light a candle or make a donation in the person’s name, and recall happy memories of the loved one to replace negative feelings with positive ones.
In looking to Scripture, parents can help ease their children’s grief over a death by pointing out that Jesus himself said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). Ultimately, God promises that someday “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain …” (Rev. 21:4).
3 | Reality of Injustice
As much as parents may want to shield their children from life’s unpleasantries, it’s crucial for children to learn how to cope with the fact that life rarely includes fairy tale endings. Over time, our children will encounter unfair situations and meet people with difficult personalities. These circumstances will reveal to our children the unfortunate fact that sometimes bad things happen to good people and that hurt people hurt people.
Adding to this stark reality is the fact that our kids can do everything right and still find themselves in a disagreeable situation where they don’t get along with everyone in their class, in their family, or (for older children) at their workplace. This realization that life isn’t always fair can leave kids feeling discouraged and even resentful.
Luckily, Scripture provides guidance on how to alleviate the heartache that comes with dealing with difficult people and unjust circumstances. The Bible instructs that as our children age, the way they talk, think, and reason must mature as well (1 Cor. 13:11). Specifically, the Bible lays out a roadmap to help our children lead more peaceful lives by encouraging our kids to:
- Talk gently, since, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).
- Reason wisely and “act justly” (Micah 6:8), doing your part to “live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).
- Think compassionately and forgive others, considering that God will “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:9-13).
Dolores Smyth writes about parenting and faith. A perfect day for her includes running, reading, and spending time with her husband and three kids. You can read more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.