Let them be sad

Children cry for the silliest reasons. Someone ate the last doughnut. They lose at Monopoly. Their socks feel ‘pinchy’. In moments such as these, dismissing our child’s tears may sometimes be necessary. Yet at other times, our kids will experience true sorrow. Eating lunch alone. Losing a pet. Enduring ridicule. As they grow, so will their life experiences, including times of grief. And as much as we’d like to protect them from all harm, we can’t. We aren’t meant to. What we can do for our hurting child is come alongside and help them grieve. 

Such advice may ruffle us. We don’t want our child to grieve at all! But God promised us a trouble-ridden life. (John 16:33) Yet he also promises comfort, counsel, and his unfailing presence. Suffering can produce good things, he assures, like perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5), qualities we long to see in our children, virtues that sprout in difficulty.

So how can we best support our hurting child? What truths should frame how we think about grief?

Jesus grieved and welcomed the grieving. Jesus knew loss, rejection and loneliness and responded righteously, sinlessly and emotionally. His compassion surged when he encountered hurting people. When bleary-eyed Martha stumbled to Jesus with the news of her dead brother, Jesus joined her weeping. When the repentant woman flung herself on the floor and doused Jesus’ feet with a flood of tears, he honoured her. Jesus himself prayed to the Father with loud cries and big messy tears (Hebrews 5:7). His anguish shaped his prayers. His love for the broken-hearted abounds to us, and to our children whose tears are precious to him. 

Grief is necessary. Our kids shouldn’t grow up thinking every petty offense warrants a period of mourning yet nor should they repress legitimate hurts. Grief is a non-negotiable part of life, not something to avoid or ignore. When we notice a lingering sadness in our child, we can draw them out by identifying the grief, and identifying personally. “I know it hurts not to be included; I’ve been there too.” Naming the sadness gives our child permission to recognise that often-buried emotion. It’s okay, necessary, to be sad. It’s healthy to verbalise feelings and shed tears. Jesus didn’t deny his sorrow. He gave every inch of his messy, teary self to the Father, because he knew the Father loved him, just as he loves our children. 

God works through grief. When life stings, our children are primed to absorb an important truth: the world is broken. People hurt us and we hurt them. Animals and relatives die. We need help. We need a saviour! The gospel might become real to our child when they are hurting. But we’ll want to be careful about spouting scripture verses. Parental sermons fail to soothe when the wounds are raw. Instead, come alongside. Listen, and then listen some more. It’s right to turn to the truth and comfort of the Bible, eventually. Let them cry first. Then pray. We can ask God to give us a heart to understand, and for him to speak to our children through his, and our, words. In time, we direct them to Jesus, the man of sorrows. People told lies about him. All of his friends ran away. Life was unfair and cruel and still is today. 

But not forever. That longing our child feels to belong and be happy? We can tell them that’s from God. He gave them that desire because ultimately, they are meant to live with him in a permanent, pain-free home.  

Rachel Allord is a wife, mother, and author of books including The Girl on the Tube, a YA novel centered on friendship, loss, and belonging. Connect with her at