Research tells us kids process information differently, and more slowly, than adults. They perceive information separately, as individual pieces, rather than immediately making connections. Think of the old adage, “They can’t see the forest for the trees.”
They also have much less life experience, so their response to a challenge, struggle or crisis may often seem irrational to adults. What seems minor to us feels major to them; what seems like a tragedy to us they may handle much differently.
So how do we help our kids when they’re struggling? What may be most helpful for kids facing a hard time is transparency, plain communication and lots of love.
Butterflies are one of my daughter’s favorite creatures. I used the story of its metamorphosis as an object lesson with her to talk about strength and healing. Here are four points perhaps you could use as well:
1. Trust God Through Changes
A beautiful butterfly looks very different in the beginning. It has to go through changes. When we or someone we love gets sick or hurt, it may look sad or scary to us. It’s okay to be sad and to cry. Did you know the Bible says even Jesus cried? (John 11:35). The Bible also says anytime we are afraid, we can trust in God and ask Him to help us (Psalm 56:3).
2. Rest in Jesus
Caterpillars build a little nest called a chrysalis where they stay very still for one or two weeks while their bodies change into a butterfly. Doctors and nurses may give us bandages, casts or medicine, or even ask us to stay in bed while our bodies heal. God created our bodies to use medicine and rest to make hurt places feel better and muscles to grow strong again. We can also ask Jesus to help us feel better when we don’t feel well or when we feel sad.
3. Know that Jesus is Strong For Us
When butterflies come out of the chrysalis, their wings are soft and floppy. It takes time for them to grow strong enough to fly. Sometimes we have to rest and stay inside while our bodies are getting better. This keeps us from getting hurt again. Mommy and Daddy’s job is to protect you while you are getting stronger. The Bible says we don’t always have to be strong. Jesus can be strong for us! Philippians 4:13 says we can do everything through Jesus’ strength. That means if we don’t feel like doing something, we can think about how strong He is, and imagine He is helping us do it. The Bible says He is always with us! (Matthew 28:20).
4. Remember that God Made You Special
When butterflies flutter their wings, we see how beautiful and special they are. God made them — just like He made us! The Bible says we are “wonderfully made” and that God made each one of us special in our own way (Psalm 139:14). When we do things that make us happy and help us grow strong like eating good food, running and playing, reading or coloring, it makes God happy. It also makes other people happy because they see how beautiful and strong God made you.
“Down time” — whether healing from a sickness or injury or going through a period of grief or sadness — is a great opportunity to teach children about strength of character. My nephew Brock was sidelined from playing sports after a serious car accident left him with brain trauma and two broken legs.
“Now’s the time you develop inner strength,” his dad would tell him. Brock did. He cheered on his teammates even though he would rather be playing with them, and he focused on activities that would help build up his faith, like hanging with friends from church.
Times of transition are never easy. It takes great strength to change. Thankfully, our faith can be a source of inspiration, strength and comfort – for kids and adults alike.
If you feel your child is facing trauma or emotional distress that is extraordinary, seek help. Nationwide hotlines may help you find local services available to you and your children.
Cara Davis (@carandavis) is the editorial director for church’d.com. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and CNN, and she’s been quoted in USA Today and The New York Times. After being part of the launch team for Relevant Media Group, she served on editorial teams for Halogen TV and Help-Portrait, and was part of writing, editing and web projects for several authors, ministries and denominations. She lives with her husband and two daughters in East Nashville, where her favorite hobby is yard sale shopping with her 6-year-old.