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Parenting for faith: coaching children through a pandemic

Parenting for Faith hosted a Facebook Live this week in light of the news about COVID-19, and pioneer Rachel Turner shared helpful tips for parents to coach kids through the pandemic spiritually and emotionally. Here, we republish a blog from Parenting for Faith based on Rachel's top hints and tricks. 

When crisis hits, we want to help our children and teens navigate it well spiritually. But if it's something we've never experienced before, and we've got lots of questions ourselves, it can feel difficult to know how to journey this with them. Some of Rachel's suggestions will be helpful to you now, other bits may not be: it’s a buffet of ideas for you to pick and choose from.

But whatever you do, be confident: you are the best resource for your children right now. There are lots of good suggestions out there for things to do with your children, for tools to help you through this season, but you are their guide to navigating this new season as you walk through this part of their journey together. The coronavirus pandemic is a significant opportunity to see God, to connect with him, and to be purposeful in service to others and we can help our kids find their peace in it.

Rachel talks about three spiritual areas that may be coming up for you and your family: 

For each of these areas, Rachel refers to a tool called the ‘six stage circle’ which we use at Parenting for Faith to coach children and teens (and adults) in anything. You can read a more detailed account of how the six stage circle works here, or watch session 6 of Parenting for Faith's free, online course. In brief, the six stages are:

  • Create windows into how you deal with things: a situation / feeling by allowing your child to see or hear what you do. This might be by letting them hear you pray out loud as you chat to God about your feelings, or sharing where you saw God do something. (For more about creating windows see here.)
  • Frame for them what they are seeing or feeling: help them understand what is going on. This may by explaining, exploring stories from the Bible or asking or answering questions. (For more about framing see here.)
  • Equip them to do this for themselves: for example, manage a particular emotion or to be purposeful or to be able to chat to God about it
  • Create opportunities for them to do it themselves: for example, you might spot that they are worried and remind them of how they can connect with God about that, or remind them of someone who might need their help.
  • Give them boundaries: help them understand what you expect from them (for example, take care of yourself, but don’t be selfish), or the limits of their situation (you can’t help everyone so who is God pointing out to you?)
  • Give them feedback: praise, encourage or redirect by helping them see the impact of they have when they join with God in what he is doing: I can see how much more peaceful you are / look how grateful your sister was when you gave up your game to play hers or gently reflecting on how they are doing.

Coaching our kids through their emotions

(approx 6 minutes and 35 seconds in)

We are all experiencing a range of emotions, that may be changing rapidly. We can encourage children not to be afraid or reassure them that God gives us peace, but that doesn’t really help our kids work through how they feel and help them deal with that.

Things to try

Recognise that all children are unique and will be experiencing their own range of emotions. Even within a family, some children may be quite relaxed about coronavirus while others may be panicking.

Help them understand what emotions they are experiencing.  There will be a huge range: uncertainty, worry, concern, guilt, unsettled, grief (either for a person or for something they are missing), plus many more. Using questions can be a great tool to help children unpick and identify what they are feeling: ‘Some people feel sad when they hear this … is that what you feel or do you feel something else?’; ‘Tell me more about …’

Coach them in how to manage those emotions and see where God is in them using the six stage circle:

  • Create windows: eg how you are coping with your emotions around coronavirus
  • Frame: help them name and explain their emotions, and understand that emotions can overwhelm us and stop us seeing where God is and what he’s doing.
  • Equip them: to walk well through fear and certainty. Help them develop strategies to cope with whatever emotions threaten to overwhelm them (‘when we feel this, what shall we try?’): for example, learning a Bible verse, asking a buddy to pray with you, chatting to God about it there and then.
  • Create opportunities: which may mean identifying when they are experiencing a particular emotion and stopping to give them the chance to try out their coping strategy.
  • Boundaries: for example, we are going to face this situation with peace and joy because we know that God is with us in it.
  • Feedback: reflect on what changes you are seeing, remark on the difference it made or how much more confident they seem, or how proud you were of them choosing to cope.

For more about creating windows into our emotions, see here; for ideas on how to help children process scary news see here; for ideas on how to help children face fears well see here; for resources on grief and bereavement see here

Helping kids see and connect with God  

(approx 23 minutes and 55 seconds in)

For our children, many of whom are very familiar with the Bible and God, a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic may throw up some very big questions about God: why has he allowed this / why doesn’t he stop it / is he in control or not? We want our children to be able to connect to God about this, but their big questions may make that hard.

These can feel like very hard questions to answer. But if you do get one or more of these, it’s good: it means your child is reaching into their knowledge about God and trying to apply it to everyday life. And you get to help them do that.

Things to try

Gently correct any distorted views of God: If you sense that their view of God may have become a bit distorted or they are questioning his nature (is he loving? Is he kind? Is he powerful?), check out our key tool of ‘Unwinding’ here. This will help you spot any wrong view of God they have and gently unwind it. This is also covered in session 3 of the Parenting for Faith course which you can view here.

Explore their questions using the questions tool, which is explained in more detail here. It’s not about having an answer for every question, but about helping kids to explore the question well. There are four stages to answering any spiritual question:

  1. Ask: What do you think? (Clarify what your child is really asking and see if they have a view)
  2. Ask: What do we know? What do we know from the facts, the science, truth about God from the Bible, other wise people, our own experiences?
  3. Ask: What do we NOT know? I know that God heals but not if he’s healing people of the virus; I don’t know if God’s going to use his power to stop this pandemic; I don’t know if the scientists are right …
  4. Explain: how you answer the  question: for example, when I’m not sure about things I focus on the truth I know about God; or whenever I’m worried about this I remember that God says he brings good things out of everything so I look for what he’s doing and see if I can join in with him …

And  finally, decide your next steps: for example, to check in with your wise people / chat to God about it / nothing, we’re OK with the answer.

Equip them to connect directly to God. Coach them in seeing God in this crisis and connecting with him using the six stage circle.

  • Create windows: into where you see God and what you see him doing.
  • Frame: that God is active, for example comforting people / bringing hope and help / giving scientists wisdom … 
  • Equip them: to connect directly with God as they chat and catch with him (for more about chat and catch see here or watch session 4 and session 5 of the Parenting for Faith course  If a child is struggling to catch, you can use a simple prayer ministry method with them, explained in session 7 of the course.  
  • Create opportunities: for example by asking questions (when I was out today I saw God doing …. Where did you see God today?); by pausing the news and wondering out loud what God is doing in that situation. 
  • Boundaries: for example, every time we have a question about God and coronavirus, let’s ask him first before talking about it.  
  • Feedback: what do you see, how are you changing, how are they? 

Helping kids be purposeful

(approx 38 minutes 10 seconds in)

Our first response to this crisis may be self-focussed, thinking about our family, our safety, and it can be hard, particularly for children, to find any purpose in it.
However, God created us to be purposeful and powerful people, partnering with him to bring his love to every corner of the world: it’s no accident that the first thing God said to newly created Adam and Eve was to give them a job (Genesis 2:16)! And the Bible is full of God’s heart for us to love, to care, to lay down our lives, to love justice and mercy, love our neighbour as ourselves, to give, to pray … the list goes on. He does have purpose for each one of us, jobs for each one of us to do to bring his love and help to others. 

The six stage circle is a powerful tool for you to use to help your children find their unique purpose:

  • Create windows: into my sense of what  God is asking me to do and what you see others doing.
  • Frame:  Talk about how we always have a purpose, what that might look like, how small things have big impact. 
  • Equip: Help children see what God is inviting them to do: who do they see who needs help or to know they aren’t alone? What’s God saying to you? What’s your heart telling you?
  • Create opportunities: you may need to prompt your children when there is an opportunity for them. What can they do from home? How can they do it and stay safe? 
  • Boundaries: talk about selfishness v self-care; even when we are ill we still can be kind with our words and pray for others. Let’s not sink into selfish.
  • Feedback: what you can see God doing! 

For more, check out parentingforfaith.org. Rachel Turner is the Parenting for Faith pioneer at the Bible Reading Fellowship.