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If your family is wrestling with the tragic losses the Zeeland and Hamilton Communities or you have experienced in your own family lately, please consider the helpful content below. Pastor Steve Spitters is indebted to his friend Josh Zoerhof, counselor and Pastor at Ridge Point for the following information.
This is a complicated and difficult conversation for anyone (including professionals). Here are a few tips that can help when talking to your kids:
What to say:
1. Be clear but try to stay away from details. If your children know someone who lost their battle with mental health (notice a certain word I’m choosing not to use) - tell them clearly and directly but don’t focus on method (how they did it). If you use too many words or are unclear - it’s possible they might miss what you’re saying all together. Try thinking about a phrase like, “Last night _______ lost their battle to mental health, they are gone now. I’m so sorry.” Josh used the word depression, but neither of these boys were showing the traditional signs of depression. But let’s be careful not to project on to these scenarios something we do not know for certain. Pastor Steve believes isolation and maybe shame and guilt could be major contributors. He is also hearing students talk about the overwhelming amount of change (extracurriculars being canceled, transition to virtual learning, etc.) and the weariness they are experiencing.
2. Answer questions they ask (avoid trying to answer questions you have). Let your child lead the conversation. You are probably hurting and confused too, but be careful that you don’t insert your thoughts in their minds. They are likely in shock and will be for days/weeks possibly months.
What to do:
1. Be present and available. Sit with them. Hold them. Listen to them.
2. Be emotionally real with them. You don’t have to be tough for your kid(s). They need you to help them feel (if it’s a close friend their feelings are a jumbled mess).
3. Pray with them. Pray for their friend’s family. Even if you’re not a person of faith - prayer helps.
4. Give them space if they ask. Everyone processes with grief differently.
5. Make sure they eat. In stress and pain - some kids stop eating. They need calories. Buy their favorite snacks and foods - I highly recommend chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream for teenagers.
6. Avoid jumping to conclusions. It’s devastating and your mind goes to the worst about what could happen to your child or the next child. It’s not helpful and likely not the case. Stay engaged but don’t go into high alert.
7. Call a faith worker or counselor if you don’t know what to do next. Local churches and counseling agencies have more experience with tough conversations and if you as a parent are wrestling emotionally - REACH OUT! You can only help your kids so far as you are healthy yourself.