Teach Kids How to Comfort Others
I had a different topic scheduled for this week, but then one of those unexpected crises hit my family. I was driving home from the Great Homeschool Convention in Greenville, South Carolina, when my husband called. The right side of his body had suddenly gone numb. He was exhibiting at a librarian's conference at the time. We didn't know it then, but my fit, healthy husband had had a stroke.
We were shocked to say the least, and it's safe to say we are still coming to terms with a new reality: medical testing, daily meds, and questions about the future. We are enormously grateful to God, however, that the stroke was small and did not result in disability.
This episode is not about strokes or even stress, which we have also had an abundance of. It's about teaching our kids to help those who are hurting.Listen to the podcast
How to Teach Kids to Comfort Others
When my husband's stroke was diagnosed, I immediately texted my two kids in college. I got no response until the next day when one of them texted an unrelated question. I was shocked again. I told them so.
One of them said he hadn't known what to say. The other had been very busy and wasn't feeling well. I was disappointed in how they responded, but I was also mad at myself. I hadn't taught my kids how to help those who are hurting. As a result, they responded the way so many adults do. I immediately talked with my younger kids about how to respond. I realized that I wanted to encourage you to have these same conversations with your kids.
How to Help Others Reference
I contributed to the book The Art of Helping by Lauren Littauer Briggs. It's an excellent resource with helpful responses for a variety of hurting people. I encourage you to get a copy to keep as a reference.
In the book, you'll find a variety of unhelpful responses too. The contributors like me remember these unhelpful responses very clearly because of the emotions surrounding our loss or trial. If we or our kids fail to provide loving support of family and friends when they're hurting, they're unlikely to forget. These situations are vital opportunities for us to share the love of Christ. That's why I believe we must teach our kids how to help.
The Most Common Reason We Don't Help
My son's honest reason for not responding to the news that his dad had had a stroke is the most common reason we don't help hurting people: We don't know what to say. We're afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. We're afraid of making people cry, of making the pain worse. And certainly we can say or do the wrong things, but not providing loving support is the worst thing we can do.
I told my younger kids that if anything like this happens in the future, a response is required–preferably a phone call and not a text, and certainly not a heart on a social media post with no comment. Depending on the closeness of the relationship, a visit, call, card, or message is appropriate. We had a friend of my husband's say he didn't want to bother him with a call. I reassured him that it would be welcomed. If you aren't sure what level of support is okay, ask.
What You Should Say When You Don't Know What to Say
What should you say if you don't know what to say? Start with, “I'm so sorry for your loss; I'm sorry this happened; I'm sorry for what you're going through.” Adding, “I love you” and “I'm praying for you” are never wrong to say, even if you're supporting someone who is not a Christian. If you're seeing someone in person, a hug, rubbing a shoulder, and sympathetic tears are powerful ways of caring for someone in crisis.
Busyness: Another Common Reason We Don't Help
Let's talk about my other son's reason for not responding: busyness and not feeling well. Crises are never planned. They never occur at a convenient time. While I was in Greenville, a precious friend who was facing life-threatening surgery texted to ask if I could come to the hospital to pray with her. I could not. I responded that I would drop everything to be with her, but I was hours away. I asked if we could talk on the phone instead and that's what we did. I know she felt cared for.
If you aren't able to provide the kind of support you'd like to, explain it. Otherwise, your friend or family member may think you don't care. If my son had said, “Mom, I'm so sorry to hear this. I want to call as soon as I can, but for now, know that I love you both and I'm praying for you,” I wouldn't have had an issue.
If you have a choice between providing support and another more pleasurable, but not critical activity, I recommend you choose providing support. Nothing feels as bad as regret and there is no way to undo a failure to care when someone needed you. This applies to attending memorial services. Grieving people pay close attention to who is there.
What to Do When You Feel Uncomfortable
We often feel helpless when people are hurting. We try a variety of things to feel less uncomfortable. We often say, “Let me know if I can do anything.” This isn't offensive, but it also isn't helpful. A person in crisis can't think about what needs to be done. If you're in a position to provide concrete help, ask if the hurting person wants that help. Offer to take the kids, grocery shop, or bring a meal, for example–especially if you have close ties. If you aren't in a position to provide specific help, don't offer.
Sometimes we are uncomfortable with others' sadness or grief. We want them to see the positive in the situation. But the hurting person may not be ready for that perspective. They also do not need to hear about you or someone who has experienced a similar or greater loss. When I had a miscarriage, I was told that God may have been spacing my children out better. I was also told about a woman who lost a baby closer to term than I was. A friend told me to take Prozac so I wouldn't be sad. Instead of trying to minimize your discomfort, allow the hurting person to come to his or her own positive conclusions. You can then affirm them. In my husband's case, we truly are thankful it was a mild stroke. We aren't offended by those who add their gratitude to ours. But it's also very affirming when others acknowledge the stress we've experienced.
If you or your kids are helping another hurting Christian, sharing Scripture and uplifting songs can be so kind. I have appreciated this from my friends.
Be Sure to Follow Up
Finally, teach your kids to follow up in providing care. People's need for support doesn't end when they're discharged from the hospital or when their loved one is buried. Check in and ask how your friend is doing. Give the hurting person the chance to talk about it without being interrupted. Make a note of the date of a loss, so you can provide support on the anniversary date. Reassure your friend of family member of your continuing prayer and ask if there are particular requests to be praying for. Never imply that a hurting person should be “over it by now.” There's no timeline.
Both of my college kids apologized and called their dad and we all feel a lot better. Teach your kids to apologize if they don't care for people like they know they should. This humility goes a long way toward healing any hurts we may inflict on people we care about.
Finally, we have to accept God's grace. We are human and imperfect in the way we care for others. I have made many mistakes in this area, which makes it easier for me to forgive my kids.
In teaching your kids how to help hurting people, use examples of good and poor support you've experienced in your own life. Talk about what you are doing to help others and why. Thank you for raising up a generation of caring kids.
Next week we'll discuss whether it's time for you to pursue your dreams.
Have a happy homeschool week!