How do you help a 5-year-old grieve over the sudden loss of her daddy?

There is no pastoral handbook for this one.  Yet, when my dear friend and deacon in my church was killed in a car crash 3 months ago, his wife and 2 young children were left shocked and full of questions.  This includes his really smart and spunky 5-year-old daughter, who I met with on Monday.  Grief is a good thing and all who have experienced this kind of loss needs to grieve.  However, how do you help a 5-year-old girl experience grief that is good and helpful?

For starters, you can’t approach a winsome 5-year-old like an adult.  Just because I am the pastor, doesn’t mean this little girl trusts me enough to speak with me.  She trusts and speaks to me for 2 reasons only:  She knows I loved her daddy, and she is my buddy.  That is it.  Under this premise, here is what we talked about on Monday:

It is good to talk about daddy.  Every time I come by to see her, she wants to play the same game, “Don’t wake up daddy,” ironically.  We made the deal that as we play this game, we will talk about her dad.  Although we cannot approach a child like an adult, a child needs to do the very same thing adults need to do in these moments and it is what our very instincts tell us not to do…don’t talk about what makes us sad.  Yet, that is the very thing that helps us grieve as we celebrate and remember the one we loved who is now gone.

It is ok to miss daddy.  During this play date in particular, we decided to make a list of all the ways she missed her daddy.  She then had the brilliant idea that we should write these things down so that we do not forget them…told you she was smart.  in between games, we would add a couple of things to the list and by the end, we had a good list that she was very proud to go and show her mom.  She misses daddy.  She misses the things they did together.  That’s ok.  In fact, it is good and healthy to talk about it.  It helps even a 5-year-old grieve.

This is why we need Jesus.  No adult or child can rightly grieve with hope if the gospel is not brought in to the discussion.  Just remember, 5-year-old.  This smart little girl knows her daddy loved Jesus and even though sin brings death and separates us from our loved ones still here, even worse sin separates us from God.  We talk about how Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that if we believe in Jesus, love Him most, and trust in Him with our whole life, we get not only to go where daddy is, but even more important where Jesus is, forgiven and free from sin.  These gospel truths must be brought in to give true hope in loss, even to a 5-year-old.

We played a few games, showed mommy her new list, then I left.  So a fair question to ask is, “Was there anything accomplished beyond me entertaining a 5-year-old for a few minutes?”  I believe so, but you will have to pull it out of a 5-year-old to be sure.  Good luck with that.

Posted in Caring for Widows, Funerals, Home and Family
16 comments on “How do you help a 5-year-old grieve over the sudden loss of her daddy?
  1. Adam Winters says:

    I certainly miss her daddy too.

    God’s blessings on you and the Ellison family, Brian.

  2. Jeff Downs says:

    Thank you again for your blog and posts like this. Very helpful for us preparing for the ministry.

  3. Derek Cheatham says:

    I too miss her daddy and I think that by what you did, you may have helped her to understand a bit more of the grieving with hope process….for a 5 yr old.

  4. Kim Ellison says:

    Thank you Brian, I will forever be grateful for your faithful ministry to our church and my family.

  5. Sam Bierig says:

    Very helpful! You can see the compassion, love, and wisdom Jesus has implanted in the ministry of the elders there at Auburndale. As a young pastor, ministering to children in my congregation, i found these statements extremely insightful and helpful.

    “She trusts and speaks to me for 2 reasons only: She knows I loved her daddy, and she is my buddy.”

    Thanks Brian for willing to be raw with the ministry God has given you. It is really helpful to those of us who glean from it…

  6. Andrew Wilkinson says:

    I was encouraged and nodding in agreement as I read this post. My own dad died just before I turned 5 and I remember vividly that entire season. I can testify that talking about daddy and intentionally remembering (missing) him were life-giving for my brothers and me and helped us to grieve well. Praise God for all those who also pointed us to Jesus during that time. The fatherhood of God and all that Jesus has done for us in the gospel became key for me in working through my dad’s death, to the extent I could as a little boy, and also later as the impact of his loss hit hardest in high school and college. I pray for this family and that God would draw near to this little girl as he did to me.

    Thanks for this post and for coming to share with us at Immanuel yesterday.

    • briancroft says:

      Thank you for sharing your story of this, brother! Very helpful to those who walk through the same. It was a joy to be with you guys yesterday.

  7. irma tijerina says:

    My son passed away 3 wks ago unexpectedly at the age of 24. My 5 yr. old grandaughter asks about him every day. I tell her that if she looks up at the sky she can speak to him any time she wants because he lives in heaven with God now. I also told her that it is ok to miss him because her grandpa and I miss him just as much as she does every day. When we were at the funeral service I told her that she would see many people crying. They would be crying because they are sad that he is gone but that sometimes people cry when they are happy and we are happy that he is in heaven. We have been having lots of visitors and everyone is bringing food so she thinks we have been having “going to heaven parties”

  8. donna harris says:

    I have a little 5 yr old grandson who just lost his daddy a week ago. He was the only one with his daddy when he died of a heart attack. He saw them try to resuscitate his daddy and the police had to bring him out. He was terrified. His mom and dad were separated. His dad was only 36. He does fairly well during the day and talks about his daddy dying. At night time is when he wants to go to the hospital to see his daddy. How do we help him?

  9. Donna Harris says:

    I have a little 5 yr old grandson who just lost his daddy a week ago. He was the only one with his daddy when he died of a heart attack. He saw them try to resuscitate his daddy and the police had to bring him out. He was terrified. His mom and dad were separated. His dad was only 36. He does fairly well during the day and talks about his daddy dying. At night time is when he wants to go to the hospital to see his daddy. How do we help him? His daddy was not a Christian and would not go to church so how do we tell him that his daddy went to Heaven? We can’t tell him his daddy is with Jesus or God. What do we say to him?

    • Brian Croft says:

      Wow, so sorry to hear this terrible news. Great question. No, you cannot tell him his daddy is with Jesus, but you can use it as a way to tell him why he needs Jesus. If there was any uncertainty to that reality of the father being unconverted, I would leave it as uncertain. But, if it was sure that he was hostile to God to that point, it can be a very powerful example of our need for Jesus, not knowing when we die. I hope that helps. Bless you as you care for that sweet, hurting boy.

  10. Anne says:

    it is 45 years a got that our mother suddenly died in her sleep with me as a 5 year old sleeping next to her.
    Was moved to live with my Paternal Grandma dn my father with his new wife.
    What helped was much patience from my grandma, attention from my father and many relatives including me in their families.
    There was no talk of her at all till I was old enough to share with my older siblings about her. I am a whole mother of three, 21, 17 and 12 and a sunday school teacher, childminder, friend, sister and wife.
    Having a living faith in Jesus plus the people around me helped me but my older siblings did not get much chance to grieve and still try their best to move in life positively with the Faith also in Christ.
    This Blog is a great help in looking back and knowing what to advise people who go through such unexpected tragedy.

  11. sandy says:

    My little girl turns 5 in a couple of weeks. She loves me so much. I loom at posts and wonder what it will be like for her when im gone. I know its coming soon. My health is not the greatest. I often wonder if I make a split of mh familey and see her little by little it wohld help but then I lose out on memories for her. So confused Thanks

  12. Tonette Hayes says:

    I was preparing my Sermon for Sunday and saw this on the internet, although death may be difficult for anyone it my be more difficult for a person who is not grounded in the word of god. Yes! We cry with pain we cannot describe. “Jesus” cried when Lazarus died, this was to show us it was alright. We don’t want to tell children things that God won’t agree to support, this will make their pain worst when things don’t get better.

    Telling a child “Oh God took them to Heaven and you will see them one day.” might make you feel better for saying that, but could make the child hate god for taking them away. The truth is you do not know no one does and we know that only God can give or take lives. Be honest with anyone regardless to their age. There is a lesson in everything God allows to happen, instead of them reading a book with no substance start them reading a children’s bible. When we try to shelter anyone with our words of how life we run the risk of destroying them and not helping.

    When parents told their children babies came from the stork, real babies were born out of young girls wombs. STAND ON GOD’S UNCHANGING SCRIPTURES.

    All we have when someone dies is God and time, in that order.

    Hopefully this will help, I know this happened some time ago, but again God’s words are always new and refreshing.

    Tonette Hayes

  13. dolly odell says:

    I lost my son (42 years old) DUI crash 4 doors from our home, he lived with me.
    Died at the site. I have a little granddaughter that will be 6 Nov 12. Her daddy died Oct 7 2012. They both lived with me 80% of the time. Her mommy had her on weekends until school started, then my son picked her up every Fridays and took her back to school monday mornings. I want to be with the child but I am so afraid she will want to go downstairs to her daddys like she would do when she got upset or tired of me. I don’t know if mommy is doing all she can to help her understand. Of course mommy says she is and doing pretty dealing with it and that she has her moments. But, I know momys weaknessesj and dealing with her own responsiblities. That is why we had the child since she was 3 most of the time until it was time for P-K. Mommy has custody so we had no choice but to submit.

    I have had much pain and when I am High I can deal with the day but when I go low I go almost insane. I have discounted God. We are to honor and Him thank Him everyday for Him giving His life for our sins. We are to pray every day for his mercy. WHAT MERCY look around where is the mercy in Siriea. Rape, killing, babies killed. A storm right now occuring might kill 1,000′s of people….. A President that wants to change our beliefs and our way life. People hating people. WHERE IS GOD? Nope I believe in evolution
    more and more each day. Maybe when the idea of a God giving us a brain was His way of saying “there you’re on your own”. I don’t know the truth and neither do you. Death is it….it’s over…..you are gone.

8 Pings/Trackbacks for "How do you help a 5-year-old grieve over the sudden loss of her daddy?"
  1. [...] a helpful blog called Practical Shepherding.  His recent post is an excellent help to those helping young children grieve over the loss of a parent.  He begins: There is no pastoral handbook for this one.  Yet, when my dear friend and [...]

  2. [...] Croft gives some sober, sound advice on helping a 5-year-old grieve over the sudden loss of her daddy. Rate this: Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  3. [...] How do you help a 5-year-old grieve over the sudden loss of her daddy? | Practical Shepherding [...]

  4. [...] How to help a 5-year-old grieve over the sudden loss of her father “There is no pastoral handbook for this one.  Yet, when my dear friend and deacon in my church was killed in a car crash 3 months ago, his wife and 2 young children were left shocked and full of questions.  This includes his really smart and spunky 5-year-old daughter, who I met with on Monday.” [...]

  5. [...] How Do You Help a 5-year Old Grieve Over the Sudden Loss of Her Daddy? There is no pastoral handbook for this one.  Yet, when my dear friend and deacon in my church was killed in a car crash 3 months ago, his wife and 2 young children were left shocked and full of questions. [...]

  6. [...] Artigo:  How do you help a 5-year-old grieve over the sudden loss of her daddy? Ator: Brian Croft Fonte: Practical Shepherding [Como ajudar uma menina de cinco anos de idade no luto pela morte repentina do pai?] “There is no pastoral handbook for this one.  Yet, when my dear friend and deacon in my church was killed in a car crash 3 months ago, his wife and 2 young children were left shocked and full of questions.  This includes his really smart and spunky 5-year-old daughter, who I met with on Monday.  Grief is a good thing and all who have experienced this kind of loss needs to grieve.  However, how do you help a 5-year-old girl experience grief that is good and helpful?  For starters, you can’t approach a winsome 5-year-old like an adult.  Just because I am the pastor, doesn’t mean this little girl trusts me enough to speak with me.  She trusts and speaks to me for 2 reasons only:  She knows I loved her daddy, and she is my buddy.  That is it.  Under this premise, here is what we talked about on Monday.” [...]

  7. [...] and her mommy and was no longer living with them.  Much like the situation I faced last year in my discussions with the 5-year-old girl who lost her daddy in a car crash, there is no playbook or minister’s guide when a hurting 6-year-old girl wants to talk and [...]

  8. [...] her and her mommy and was no longer living with them. Much like the situation I faced last year in my discussions with the 5-year-old girl who lost her daddy in a car crash, there is no playbook or minister’s guide when a hurting 6-year-old girl wants to talk and wants [...]

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