How to Talk to Your Kids About Heaven
The film release of Heaven Is For Real brings the best-selling book about a boy who visited Heaven to life on the big screen--and into the mainstream. Whether of not they see the movie, chances are your kids have some questions about Heaven.
Talking about Heaven is a two-sided coin. The old saying goes, everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die. In the same vein, talking to children about death can feel awkward and potentially painful. Thankfully, films and books like Heaven Is For Real might open the door to have a conversation with your kids about these topics.
Here are few points to keep in mind when talking to your kids about Heaven.
1. Don't expect kids under age 9 to understand death.
The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) looked at the work of those who deal with grief counseling in children. They theorized that before age 5, kids can't cognitively grasp the fact that everyone dies (including themselves.) By ages 9 and 10, most children have a sense of death as being final and irreversible.
How you talk to you kids about death, loss and grief will sound different according to the age of your child, and most likely will be a topic you revisit again over time as their understanding changes and develops.
2. Play it straight - use words that mean exactly what they say.
While adults shy away from using literal words describing death, children need concrete terms. KidsHealth by Nemours suggests, "If the loved one was ill or elderly, for example, you might explain that the person's body wasn't working anymore and the doctors couldn't fix it. If someone dies suddenly, like in an accident, you might explain what happened -- that because of this very sad event, the person's body stopped working. You may have to explain that 'dying' or 'dead' means that the body stopped working."
3. Remember that the concept of Heaven Is just as hard to understand.
Your child's questions about what happens after death may be a great opportunity to talk about eternity, but realize they're also curious about what physically happens to the person who died. You may need to explain what happens to the body (it's placed in a box and is buried deep in the ground), then talk about the soul and Heaven.
Author Randy Alcorn has a book called Heaven for Kids where he helps answer common questions kids have about Heaven. In order for it to be a comfort, they must understand what it means to know Jesus.
Topics of eternity and salvation simply aren't ones to tackle in a five-minute conversation. It will take time. Allow your child's understanding to develop in time, and give him or her plenty of opportunities to discuss what's on their hearts and minds at any time.
4. Share God's Word with your children to help explain Heaven.
The Bible is full of comforting words about the hope of Heaven. Here are several scriptures paraphrased in ways your child might understand more easily.
In Heaven God makes sure no one feels like crying. No one will die in heaven or feel bad. They'll be happy.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
Everyone who believes Jesus loves us and died for us will live together in Heaven one day. We'll all be together again and live forever with Jesus.
When we believe in God it's like a nightlight in the dark. We don't have to be afraid.
When I'm the most scared or feel the worst, I can think about how much God loves me and I can feel loved and safe.
God's love will never go away. I can always feel His love anytime I want.
Consider reading a scripture paraphrase each night then comparing it to the actual passage, or writing one down and putting it in your child's lunch box each day.
Heaven is more than a final resting place for souls. God's Kingdom - often called the Kingdom of Heaven in the Bible - is a place of power. It's vibrant and real; it's all the hope we need to live an overcoming life in this space and time. Living Kingdom-minded will help your kids grasp the concept of Heaven and its relationship to Earth.
Your family can learn more about God's Kingdom in the final DVD of the family Bible series What's In The Bible?. "God's Kingdom Comes" tackles the tricky book of Revelation and gives us hope for the coming Kingdom of God!
Cara Davis is a content consultant and co-founder of the soon-to-launch church'd.com. The former editorial director for Relevant Media Group, her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and CNN, and she's been quoted in USA Today and The New York Times. She lives with her husband and two girls in East Nashville where she has co-founded a nonprofit called Community PTO to support the success of local community schools.