Easter is a glorious celebration for Christians, but only in the context of the darkness of Good Friday. Without Good Friday, Easter morning loses its meaning. Talking to children about the death of Jesus, particularly the crucifixion, is difficult territory for some parents. How can we communicate the truth about this season in a way that is developmentally and emotionally appropriate for children? Here are some tips and guidelines. As children are infinitely different, these are just suggestions; your child may be able to handle more or less.
- Help them understand sin. Without an understanding of sin, our children can’t appreciate the significance of what Jesus did for us on Good Friday and Easter. You can explain that the word sin simply means all the things we do wrong (including big and little things). All people sin. All people but Jesus. He was perfect.
- Use language they can understand. Even if your child doesn’t understand the concept of death just yet, he can likely understand terms like pain, punishment and loneliness. We can use these words to help explain Good Friday and Easter. We can say something like: “When they put Jesus on the cross on Good Friday, it hurt. The people who did it were punishing Him for things that He never did, for Jesus never did anything wrong. Because God loved us and wanted to be friends with us, He took every one of our sins out of our hearts and put them into Jesus. Jesus felt all the sadness and loneliness that sin brings. Then Jesus’ body stopped working and His body was put in a tomb. All of our sins were buried in that tomb with Him. When God brought Him back to life and He came out of that tomb on Easter morning, our sins were gone – gone forever. And now we can be friends with God. That is why we celebrate Easter.” If you find yourself stuck trying to answer their follow-up questions about the crucifixion, this article can help.
- Be careful. Some parents, in an effort to help their children understand the importance of Good Friday and Easter, go into too much detail about the crucifixion. We need to prayerfully consider the impact that such information will have on our children. We need to take into consideration things such as temperament, past experiences and developmental level. We don’t need to feel as if we are keeping the truth from our children, but rather revealing it in a planned and purposeful way. Like a flower opening from a bud to full bloom, we can reveal the details of Good Friday incrementally over time as they age.
- Find good resources. One of the best Easter resources for Christian families that I have found is a book called Benjamin’s Box by Melody Carlson. It is a fictional story that illustrates the Passion Week through the eyes of a child. Benjamin follows Jesus from the Triumphal Entry to the cross on the hill to the open and empty tomb. It helps capture the emotions and intensity of the story in a way that is relatable to children. You can purchase a set of Resurrection Eggs to use along with this book so your children will have a tangible object to solidify the concepts in their minds. Make sure your children know that while the boy is fictional, the elements of the story are not. Show them where the author got her ideas from an actual Bible.
- Consider taking them to a Good Friday service. Your young children may not be able to understand what is being preached, but they will feel the atmosphere of the room. The somber environment will be in stark contrast to the coming celebration on Resurrection Sunday. You can talk about the different moods of the two services and why they are different. Don’t let your sensitive little ones wallow in sadness. You can chant right along with Tony Campolo and say, “Friday’s here, but Sunday’s coming!” If your church does an actual dramatic interpretation of the crucifixion rather than a somber service, I would caution you to carefully consider the impact it might have on your children. We do not want fears and images to cloud out the restoration message of the holiday. You could also try an “at-home” service using this powerful activity that illustrates exactly what happened to our sins at the cross.
- Get to know the One we are celebrating. Easter is more than chocolate bunnies and pretty dresses. Because of Easter, we are now able to be friends with the Creator of the entire universe. That is pretty amazing. Who is this God of the universe? We can find out by studying His many names. Here’s a great site to help you and your children study the infinite facets of our Savior, Redeemer and Lord. Make it part of your Easter Day celebration.