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Helping our kids through stressful times

Kids are good at masking their feelings under smiles, play and silliness. A simple ritual with a can of pop will help us help them. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
Kids are good at masking their feelings under smiles, play and silliness. A simple ritual with a can of pop will help us help them. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

I was attending our online Sunday School class for first through fifth graders. The kids got on the conference call happy, waving hello to each other with smiles on their faces! As usual, their energy was great and it took us a few minutes to help them settle and focus! I thought to myself, “My, these kids have really adjusted so well to COVID-19, the racial tensions, the upcoming election stresses, home school and wearing masks!” Outwardly, these kids looked as happy and carefree as ever!

The teacher, Janet, invited the kids to take a deep breath, and another and another and as she lit a small candle, she invited them to type into the chat box anything they needed prayers for. The scroll of prayer concerns began: COVID, getting sick, COVID, my grandmother getting ill, COVID. We were all reminded that kids are good at masking their feelings under smiles, play and silliness.

How can we help our kids through this time? I invite you to begin using a simple healing ritual at least once a week at home with your child. (This can certainly be used by Christian Educators and pastors with groups of children as well.) This healing ritual will help them acknowledge their stress and discover positive ways to express themselves followed by a time of stillness in the presence of God.

You will need a few items for this ritual: A can of unopened soda pop, a candle and lighter and your finger!

The Healing Ritual
Part One: Acknowledging our stress

Sit down with your child and start shaking the pop can! This will definitely “get their attention! And when they ask you about it, say, “This pop can is you and this pop can is me! And we have been shaken! Each bubble in this can is a feeling we are having. Let’s see if we can name the bubbles in our pop can! Because, do you know what will happen if we don’t let our bubbles out? This can will explode! When we don’t let our feelings out, they grow and we explode (we say things we wish we hadn’t, we yell at the people we love, and we might even hit someone or throw something and hurt someone!). So, let’s name our feelings right now and get them out of our can.

Spend some time naming your feelings. And then you and your child should spend a few minutes thinking of some ways you might get your bubbles out of your cans. Things like: kick a ball, go for a walk, dance, sing, write in a journal, paint or draw a picture. Choose one activity to do regularly for the next week. Promise each other that you will do this activity during the coming week.

Part Two: Be still

After your child and you share time together identifying your feelings, and coming up with ways to express them, light the candle. Candle light is calming and kids are universally drawn to it. Light the candle and ask your child to sit with you in its light, breathing in and out the love of God for 1 minute. After a minute, invite your child to blow out the candle, and hug them!

Part Three: Bless them

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."

Jesus, Matthew 18:20 (NIV) 

A blessing is a time where you look your child in the eye and tell them that they are strong, that they are resilient, that you know that they are trying their best and that God is always with them! Then, using your finger, make a symbol (a heart or cross) on your child’s hand or forehead as a reminder of God’s love for them!

Does this sound too easy?

It is a very simple ritual and an extremely healing ritual for children. The only difficult part of this ritual is that the adult who is guiding it must also share their authentic feelings. It is a shared ritual between adults and children.

Let’s face it, we are all stressed out right now and none of us wants to be interrogated about how we are doing. Kids resist being quizzed or pushed to share their deepest feelings as much as adults do. So instead, let’s gather, share, light a candle, breathe together, bless each other and trust, that where two or more are gathered, there God and God’s healing touch will be!

Ritual is a gift. It is my prayer that this healing ritual will become a regular part of your home prayer life and that, through it, you will find the strength and hope only God can truly bring us in uncertain times!

*The Rev. Leanne Hadley has spent her career working in children’s ministry in a variety of settings. She is the founder of A Time for Children. Learn more. Or contact Joe Iovino at United Methodist Communications.

This story was published October 5, 2020. 

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