Be honest and realistic. Access good resources. Don’t feel obliged to brief them every day, just sit and watch Newsround with them, and then just talk about what they’re thinking.
Answer their questions as best you can. And explore the answers together. Be really clear in how you speak. With children phrases like “passed away” or “gone to be with Jesus” may not be helpful. What does that literally mean? If someone has died, it’s best just to say they died.
Let the child lead the conversation. Let them go at their speed. Be aware that even if you’ve had to share something really sad, don’t be offended or surprised if the child’s response to you saying that their grandparent has died is to look at you, go “OK” and then go back to playing. That’s how children maybe and that’s OK.
This sounds a ridiculous point to make, but theology is important. This is going to test some of the theology around our children’s work. There is too much children’s work stuff that I’m not sure the writers would ever acknowledge this, but children can come away with a sense that God is the God that solves all of our problems. God is the God that arrives like the Calvary in the Western and saves the day at the last moment. And the God of the Bible isn’t like that.
There is room for conversations about how God engages by being with us through these crises. I love a Tom Wright article that I read recently, which said that God does not stay calm in heaven, just pulling leavers managing the world. God feels grief, God laments for his creation. This is a time when lament is now part of the Christian diet again, because we can’t answer why and we can’t solve this.
Part of discipleship now is walking alongside one another and wandering together. Part of raising children is going to be about wandering together, because we don’t have an answer for this that’s tidy and neat. And we don’t know why this is happening.
Somewhere in in this darkness God is burning more brightly than ever. And part of our role is to help children to find God there, rather than trying to make the darkness go away or solve it, because that’s not going to happen.
Sam Donoghue is head of children’s and youth ministry support at the Diocese of London.