Category: Parenting

Ten Essential Children’s Books about Grief for Church and School Libraries, and Home Use (+ Additional Resources)

I’m often asked, both in my role as pastor and also as an author of a book on faith and family about what resources I recommend for children who are grieving. In this post I link to ten books I recommend for children and families. Check out the age recommendations as well as a short sentence or two about the style of the book. Read to the end to find general suggestions about using the books as well as additional resources.

Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Ages: 4-8+

Speaks of death via analogy and transformation. Ugly bugs turn in to shiny dragonflies. This book leads the reader to hope and hopefulness. It reads like a parable. Waterbugs and Dragonflies is probably the most recommended book on the topic of death and dying that I’ve seen. If you’re getting only one book from this list, this is the one to get.



The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst

Ages: 4-8+

Talks about being connected to the ones we care about through love (the invisible string.) Could be used to talk about all kinds of separation, not limited to death. (Moving, divorce or other transitions as well.)





Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Ages: 8-12+

Geared more toward older elementary age children, Tear Soup talks about the recipe for grief. It affirms that there are many different responses to grief and opens the door for in-depth discussion about grief and grief responses.




The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story for All Ages  by Leo Buscaglia

Ages: 4-8+

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf speaks about death in a sort of “circle of life” type way, talking about the different stages a leaf goes through. Perhaps particularly helpful for those who live in climates where the trees change in visible and obvious ways.



When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasky Brown and Marc Brown

Ages: 4-8+

Instead of being a book with a storyline or plot, When Dinosaurs Die is sort of a guided tour through all different questions about death.  Because the illustrations are dinosaurs, it is able to convey the terms and concepts in a meaningful way that connects with children. Straightforward, and very helpful when navigating all different types of death from infant loss to war. There’s also a helpful glossary in the back.

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Ages: 3-6+

The Goodbye Book is the book most appropriate for the youngest children among us of any of the books in this list. With compelling illustrations and very simple statements like “You might be very sad” and “You might not know what to feel,” the book is extremely simple, but also effective. It uses a fish who has lost his/her companion as a jumping off point.


 I Miss You: A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas

Ages: 4-8+

I Miss You opens the door a direct and straightforward conversation about death using the expertise of psychotherapist/counselor Pat Thomas who wrote it. I Miss You is a lot like When Dinosaurs Die in that it has less of a plot and more of a discussion about what happens in death.


Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman

Ages: 6-10+

A workbook rather than a storybook, Help Me Say Goodbye is a book of art therapy exercises to work through to help a child deal with loss. This book is a great companion to one of the other story/picture books listed.


  I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Ages: 3-7+

Particularly useful in dealing with the loss of a pet, I’ll Always Love You talks about how we show love for someone we love while they are alive, and then grieve them when we die.


When A Pet Dies by Mr. Rogers

Ages: 4-8+

Another one that deals with the loss of a pet, When A Pet Dies has the  straightforward and sensitive approach associated with Presbyterian Pastor Fred Rogers. The photos look dated, but the message is timeless.




Bonus Recommendation

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith (hey, that’s me!)

Ages: 5-12+

I included my own book in this list, though it’s not a book to sit down and read with children like all of the other books. I like to say that Faithful Families is a recipe book for creating sacred moments at home. There are a ton of activities to do with children that create sacred moments. The activities are divided into traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. There are several activities in the book relevant to grief and grieving: a pet funeral to mark the passing of a pet, bubble prayers to mark the loss of another family member, a memory box to mark an infant loss and more.

General Tips for Selecting a Book on Death and Grief to Use with Children

  • Read the book through in its entirety, at least once, before reading it with your child(ren). Just because I (or some other resource) recommends a book doesn’t mean that it’s the right book for your family or situation. You know your family situation and children’s personality best. Return books that don’t suit your needs.
  • Consider whether you want a straightforward “nuts and bolts” book or one that takes more of  a sideways approach: Of the books above, When Dinosaurs Die and I Miss You are both very straightforward about death: what it is, what it means to die,  what happens to our bodies, etc. Books like The Invisible String and Waterbugs and Dragonflies are more metaphorical and indirect. I recommend reading books from both “camps.” There’s no “one size fits all” book for this.
  • Don’t put too much weight in to the age recommendations: Ages are listed as guidelines. As you’ll notice, though, in each case I’ve put a “+” at the end. Who among us can’t benefit from a story designed for a younger child? I tend to think there is no upper limit to the ages for each of these books. As for the younger end of the spectrum… that’s variable too. Read the book in advance and decide what’s best for your child. The book in this list that’s the simplest for very young children is The Goodbye Book. 
  • Supplement with your theological perspective: You might have noticed that none of these books is an overtly spiritual/religious book. This is for a few reasons: 1. There’s considerable variation among religious beliefs about life after death depending on a person’s religious/spiritual tradition. 2. Too much talk about heaven/angels/life after death can be very confusing to young children who understand things quite literally. 3. All of the books listed above are appropriate for those of any spiritual tradition (or none at all.)
  • Follow up with practice: Either Faithful Families  or Help Me Say Goodbye provides activities that can be done to help the child further process his or her grief. There’s also a photo activity included in I’ll Always Love You for use after a pet dies. Oftentimes just reading a story doesn’t provide the closure or interaction that can be so helpful to healing.

Additional Resources For Further Exploration 

When Families Grieve   – An online resource from PBS with links to games and parents guides, as well as other resources.

Maria Papova’s of brain pickings has a delightful list of other children’s books on death, grief and mourning, along with detailed reviews of each.


Note: Links in this article are affiliate links meaning that if you purchase on Amazon after clicking on the link, I receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!

On Marina Lynn, Fetal and Maternal Health Worldwide, and Other Musings

Well, well, well… look what’s been going on around here! A little over a week ago, we welcomed little Marina Lynn into the world. She came in to the world at 6 pounds and 4 ounces of pure awesome, and I can’t wait to see what adventures she takes us on. I’ve had so many thoughts this last week, and with so many friends, family, and readers to share them with, it seems like a little reflecting and updating is in order. Here goes…

On her name… 

I love names. I love hearing the story of people’s names, the ways people come up with names for their children, and the story of their nicknames. Names in the Bible are a huge deal, too. In the Bible, people give their children and even places names that are significant to them. Often God or an angel tells them what to name the child or the place.

In this spirit, Elias and I put a lot of thought and discussion behind what we would name each of our children. The name Marina Lynn was “on deck” as a girl’s name for both Clayton and Samuel, and this time we finally got to use it!

Marina was Elias’s mother’s name. Marina raised her two children, Elias and Mavit, all on her own. She worked very hard and taught them the value of working hard, too. Marina loved roses and beauty. Unfortunately for the children and I, we never had the opportunity to meet her, because she died when Elias was just 17 years old.

Lynn is my mother’s name. She’s spunky and energetic and fun and compassionate. She loves her grandchildren like nobody’s business. She blesses our lives and the lives of her grandchildren in immeasurable ways.

We love that this little one is named after her two grandmothers, and the name suits her.  Marina Lynn: it has a nice ring to it, we think! We are excited for her to have two great role models always before her as she goes through life.

On her birth… 

Each of my children has had a birth story as different as they are! Clayton was born after two days of labor, a whole lot of “off script” interventions, and hours of pushing. Samuel came flying out 18 minutes after we left for the hospital. (Elias nearly missed his birth because he was parking the car.) Marina Lynn, too, has a story we will love to tell her as she gets older.

We went to the hospital for her to be induced on Tuesday night, January 17th. Our midwives felt induction was necessary because she had a two vessel cord, and also because she was diagnosed with IUGR. They told us we had every reason to believe and assume that the birth would go well, but we were, as you might imagine, very nervous and ready to get on with it. Soon after we got there, they gave me a medication that was supposed to get things prepared for the next day. In my case, all it did was give me horrible and annoying crampy contractions I could tell weren’t doing anything, and so I asked to be taken off of it so I could sleep and be prepared for labor the next day. Since this was baby #3, they agreed and I got a little bit of sleep. (After watching just half of Bridget Jones’s Baby with Elias. Note to self: re-rent to see how it ends!)

Wednesday morning was when it got really interesting. At 8:00 a.m. they put me on Pitocin, the medicine that starts contractions, and by 9:00 a.m., I was huffing and puffing and crying like nobody’s business! I had been mentally prepared for a day’s worth of laboring and felt so defeated and heartbroken that I was already feeling exhausted after just an hour. Elias (correctly) called it by saying “I think it’s so intense because you’re about to have the baby!” The midwife came in at 9:20 a.m. and agreed that the baby was on his/her way. She said that if she broke the baby’s water, she thought we would see him/her within an hour. She was absolutely right, and by 10:07, little Marina Lynn came out, pink and squirmy and crying loudly. Her one minute Apgar score was 8 and her five minute score was 9. Healthy, happy baby! After all the worry and scare about potential complications from labor and birth, the NICU nurse that looked her over gave her a clean bill of health and she was allowed to stay with us the entire time we were in the hospital.

During the short (and challenging) labor, the things that got me through the most were looking at the “It’s a surprise!” sign the nurse had written on the whiteboard and listening to this song, a song that has helped me through so many challenging times. I also couldn’t help but think of Kelly, my soul friend and the first friend I told when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. Kelly is another person I hope and pray Marina Lynn has always before her as a role model and example of fierce, principled and warmhearted living.


On complications shortly after her birth… 

The morning after we got back from the hospital, Marina’s weight had dropped more than the doctor was comfortable with. We talked about how to get her weight up and she told us to make sure and monitor her wet and dirty diapers throughout the day. Throughout the day Marina was more and more lethargic and her diapers weren’t wet at all. On Friday night we called the on call pediatrician who told us to take her in to the hospital. When we did, the doctors put in the teeniest tiniest IV you will ever see, gave her fluids and ran a variety of blood tests. Thankfully the blood tests revealed that her sugar and electrolytes were good, and there were no other infections or abnormal markers in her blood. The wonderful and compassionate ER doctor listened to all of our questions and spent a ton of time with us. He said there was no reason to think she wouldn’t be able to pick up where she left off after this new “reboot” of fluids and sent us home.

Thankfully, since then we’ve been back to the Dr., her weight is up, and she’s eating (and filling her diapers) like a champ!

On my stitches and recovery… 

I’ve had stitches after each of my babies. Who would have thought that the teeniest baby would have had some of the most painful and challenging stitches of all? I learned from my midwife that sometimes small babies can cause as much (or even more) tearing than larger babies because they don’t smoosh and stretch. In Marina’s case, because her labor was so fast, things were even more problematic in this regard. The stitches I had after Marina’s birth were incredibly painful (worse than the labor itself) and, because I didn’t have an epidural or other pain medication, I felt them in excruciating ways.

As I was stitched up, we realized the local anesthesia wasn’t working.  Having Marina in my arms to look at and snuggle was the only thing that got me through. That experience has been rolling around in my brain a lot this week, which leads me to…

On fetal/maternal health worldwide, giving back and making something beautiful out of all of the challenges… 

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about women, particularly about fetal/maternal health worldwide. I’m mindful of the fact that all of the excellent medical care Marina Lynn and I have had — from the prenatal care and diagnostics that allowed us to know what was happening with her before her birth, to the stitches. (Painful as they were and are, without stitches, my life would be changed forever, just as the lives of so many women worldwide are forever changed by tears and other birth complications that are routine in the US). I have been remembering the book Half the Sky that talks extensively about how women are affected by complications in childbirth and lack of access to healthcare. Though Half the Sky is several years old, there’s a ton of great information, and I absolutely adore the phrase “Women hold up half the sky” from which the book gets its title.

When we got back from the ER with Marina Lynn, I was praying for her continued healing and made a promise to not let all of this pass by without doing something concrete for pregnant women and newborns worldwide. I decided to make a printable for everyone who wants to put this beautiful, empowering message on her wall, or refrigerator, or message board. You can find it in the Etsy store HERE.

100% of the proceeds of this printable will go to the organization Every Mother Counts. For the first 100 sold, I’ll kick in the Etsy fees so your entire $5.00 purchase will go directly to Every Mother Counts. After that, the fees will be discounted, which means that $4.22 will go to Every Mother Counts and .78 will go to Etsy for the fees. Cool minimalistic poster for your wall and helping mothers and babies around the world in honor of Marina Lynn? Yes please! 

On “other musings” 

There’s something about those late night feedings and hours upon hours inside the house that makes a person super pensive and reflective. I’m not sure how all of these thoughts will make it in to the blog or other writings, but I’m very thankful for this time. I think I’ll leave you with this amazing spoken word poem by Sarah Kay. If you haven’t heard it, it’s definitely worth your time, both the beginning

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

and the end

Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.


Every Mother Counts 

Half the Sky Printable 

If I should Have a Daughter 

No Woman, No Cry – a great documentary about women’s prenatal care in the US and Worldwide



A Quick Thought About Santa Claus, Jesus and Unconditional Love When You’re “Naughty”

“Mama, does Santa bring you presents if you are bad?” My five year old asked me that question this week with a worried look on his face.

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s not what I heard. I heard that if you’re bad you don’t get anything at all.”

“Well, in this house, we don’t believe in that. We believe that Santa is like Jesus and that Santa knows what is in your heart, and if you do something bad, you say you’re sorry and you do better next time. Santa knows that you are a good person, even if you make mistakes sometimes.”

That answer satisfied him, and we moved on to other things, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week. Apparently my child has been too, because today in the car he said “Mama, Santa and Jesus and mama and papa are all the same, aren’t they?”

“Um, what do you mean?” I asked.

“All of them love you, even when you make mistakes.”

This is the message I want my children to grow up with their whole life long. It’s not that there’s no room for making mistakes or improving or getting better, but don’t we need our children to know, I mean really know that they are loved unconditionally, all the time? I have a hunch that as we grow and move through life we are prone to doubt this simple truth that we are loved without condition.  For those who are worried about what will happen to children who are taught about both Jesus and Santa Claus at Christmas time, I have this thought to offer: make sure Santa and Jesus are both agents of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Similarly, see: No Elf on Our Shelf by Lee Hull Moses



5 Advent Calendar Ideas that Focus on Family Time, Kindness and Service

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that really thinks the best Advent Calendar idea is something that gives the child a toy every day. I’m particularly eying the Lego City calendar, the Plamobil calendar, and the Thomas the Train calendar. They’re cool, right? Getting a toy every day from the first day of advent through Christmas sounds pretty fun, and magical. I had some years like that where I got a treat every day, and it was fun. Some year, I think I’ll do one of these toy based advent calendars for my boys. I don’t think they’re all bad. (Side bar: If someone wants to buy me an adult version like this one or this one, I will definitely not complain.) That said, I really want advent to be a time for family and kindness and togetherness, and I know a lot of minister friends want that for their congregations, too, so here are five advent calendar ideas that de-emphasize gifts and buying.


  1. Traditional advent chain.  I made one where each “link” on the chain has a very simple advent activity related to the advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Very easy and fun. You can buy it here for your family for $4, or you can get a license that will permit you to print up a whole bunch of them for a school or congregation here. OR, if you don’t want to buy one, you could take the idea and run with it. Make up your own activities, write them on the paper chain and you’re in business. One final way to use the paper chain is to not have it be connected to any activities, simply start with 25 links and take one away each day until Christmas. So easy!


2. Acts of kindness advent calendar. Each day has an ornament with a very simple act of kindness on it. You can make this yourself by making different shapes and coming up with an act of kindness for your family to do each day, or you can buy one here (also available for churches).

3. A “reverse” advent calendar — Instead of getting something each day, try giving something each day. This idea has been floating around the internet since last year, and I think it’s great. The original idea was to put a food item in a basket each day and give them all to the food pantry at the end of advent. A similar idea might be to collect toys or clothes or other goods each day and donate at the end of advent.


4. Advent Books Calendar – This is the one my family is going to do this year. We have 15 Christmas books already I’ll need to either borrow or buy ten more and then I’ll wrap them up and number them to read each day. I think this is a great option for those who have a lot of Christmas books. I could see it being a neat tradition year after year as children get used to the books. In a couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing one of the neatest and most exciting books in our stash Christmas Love Letters from God, written by an author friend, Glenys Nellist. If you have any “must read” children’s advent books, I’d love to hear about them so I can buy or borrow for our advent! Tell me about them in the comments or on Facebook!

5. Jesse Tree – Jesse trees tell the Christian story from creation through to Jesus’ birth with ornaments hung on a tree and a devotional to go with them. There are endless variations of them. One year I’ll pick my favorite and talk about it in detail, but if this is a route you want to go, I’d suggest browsing all of the ideas on Etsy. There are completed Jesse tree ornaments complete with the guides that you can purchase as well as much more affordable and simple patterns for making your own or printing them out.




Making Time and Space For Gratitude


Walking through Target and the grocery store this week, I’ve noticed something: Thanksgiving seems to be missing from the shelf. Pumpkins and ghost napkins are 50% off, and the empty space that’s left is being filled with stockings and gingerbread. Out with goblins and pumpkins, in with Santa and stockings.

On the one hand, this is rather refreshing. After all, it’s kind of nice that Thanksgiving gets to slide in under the radar of “things you need to buy in order to celebrate.” On the other hand, it feels like the culture simply can’t be bothered with a culture centered around gratitude. There’s a lesson in there. If we want to foster a practice of gratitude, we’ll have to work to make it happen.We can’t just pick it up and put it in the cart, we’ll have to do some actual work.

November is a great month to focus on gratitude. Not only is Thanksgiving toward the end of the month, but the culture seems to be dumping glitter and evergreens on us, even if we’re not ready. Focusing on gratitude in November provides a slowing rhythm to our days. It gives us the opportunity to say “Not yet… not yet…” to all the twinkle lights and jingle bells.

There are many ways to incorporate gratitude in to the month of November (or, frankly, any month) but one of the easiest and most important is to simply ask “What am I thankful for?” Ask your friends or your spouse or children. Be surprised at what they say. We rotate family prayers at dinnertime and one of them is “Let’s all go around and say one thing we are thankful for.” Our oldest son, Clayton (age 5) often chooses that one. Last week when he did, his four year old brother said “I’m thankful that kids have kid scissors.” I asked what made him think of that and he said “I don’t know, I just like them.”

November starts in three days. Ready to take the challenge? 




The Shocking Solution to Your Child’s Disrespect: Guest Post by Nicole Schwarz

father and daughter in the park

“You’re not the boss of me!” your child yells as they stick out their tongue and run away.

Furious, you yell back, “How dare you talk to me like that! You little…”

This pattern is nothing new. Your child has a bad habit of disrespect.

It’s something you’ve been trying to nip in the bud for a while now, but no matter how many times you try to “set them straight,” send them to their room, or take away their video games, the behavior continues.

The disrespect is not OK. And your kids need to know you’re serious. So, how can you put an end to this once and for all?

The shocking solution.


Yep, you!

But not the sarcastic, condescending, criticizing you. (You’ve tried that already and it hasn’t worked.)

This solution calls for the calm, confident, empathetic you.

The YOU who doesn’t panic when their child acts immaturely because you understand their brain is still in development, and there will be times when it is hard for them to make a good decision in the heat of the moment.

The YOU who isn’t worried about “showing them who’s boss” because you know you’re in charge. You don’t have to give harsh punishments or empty threats to prove it, you set reasonable boundaries to help your kids feel safe and secure.

The YOU who responds with love because you know that conflict is inevitable in families, and you want your kids to feel safe enough to share their feelings and know that you will listen, even if the two of you don’t always agree.

This YOU can put an end to disrespect from your kids.

Why this solution works.

Think about it. Imagine your favorite teacher when you were in school…

This person probably knew much more than just your name. They knew that you hated sitting in the front row, that you needed a little extra time to complete word problems, and that you had a cat named Mr. Pickles at home.

But, this teacher wasn’t all fun and games. They had rules for the classroom, expectations for their students, and graded fairly. When the class became rowdy or loud, they didn’t have to stand on their chair and yell or dole out extra homework as a punishment, they were able to direct the class back to order with calm confidence.


Because you respected them.

Did you respect them because they DEMANDED respect? No! The respect was built out of the  relationship. This teacher KNEW you, they treated you with firmness and empathy, which led you to want to give it back in return.

It’s the same with your children.

When your kids feel connected and respected by you, they are more likely to respond in kind.

Three tips to decrease the disrespect from your kids.

  1. Engage and Connect: Spend quality time with your kids on a daily basis. Ask questions about their life (and listen to the answers!), play games they enjoy, or simply be together without nagging, correcting or directing.
  2. Model the Behavior You’d Like to See: Take note of the words you use, listen to your tone of voice, and watch your body language.  If you don’t want to see or hear it from your kids, eliminate it from your own posture and vocabulary first.
  3. Embrace Learning and Imperfection: Old habits die hard. Apologize when you make a mistake, allow “do-overs” in which you or your child are able to restate a phrase in a more respectful way, and problem solve together.

These strategies may seem uncomfortable at first. You may feel like it’s “not working” because you don’t see an immediate change in your child’s behavior.

Give it time.

Everyone wants to be respected, even kids.

And when they start to feel respected, they will let you know by giving you respect in return.

Nicole SchwarzAbout the Author notes from Traci Smith: Nicole Schwarz is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and owner of the website Imperfect Families, a parenting website that includes a ton of  common sense advice on parenting. I find her tone to be positive, non-judgmental and straightforward. In addition to the blog, you can join the 10,000+ people in the Imperfect Families Facebook Community or follow her very helpful Pinterest board.


Special Offer Right now! Nicole is starting a class called Communication for Imperfect Families, a seven week course that looks absolutely phenomenal. Check it out and consider investing in your family this summer!

Fun Fact! Though we share very similar philosophies and professional goals in adulthood, I actually know Nicole because we were childhood friends! One of my favorite memories of our friendship is spending hours (yes hours) passing notes back and forth through a laundry chute. We would take turns being upstairs (to me, the preferred position!) So fun. Congratulations on the success of Imperfect Families, Nicole, and thank you so much for stopping by!

Things I Thought About After the Hailstorm: Children and Disaster

This week I saw photos and video of the earthquake in Japan and it gave me a little bit of pause. Though the hailstorm San Antonio experienced is not even close to being in the same category of disaster, I couldn’t help but think about the common protective instinct that parents have for their children, whether it’s hail in San Antonio or earthquakes in Japan. Though we never want to think about it, how do we respond to natural disaster whether it be a thunderstorm or something larger?
When the storm happened in San Antonio, the hailstones ranged from pea-sized all the way up to baseball-sized. Near our house they were like big pecans. At the church, some were much larger. I heard about the damage to our church as my children were getting ready for school and they started to hear and see evidence that this was not a normal morning. I called the emergency line on the insurance and threw on some clothes without taking a shower. I heard Clayton and Sam in the background “Who is mommy talking to? Where are my shoes?” As we were loading up in the car, Elias showed some of the remaining hail to the boys and they were amazed. “Wow! Ice cubes outside!” But then the questions started rolling in:
“If the ice melts, does that mean they can’t fix the church?”
“Is the whole church broked?”
They came back from school to find industrial-sized fans whirring in the hallways and contractors taping up windows. As they ran outside for a little bit, we came upon a broken light I hadn’t seen before and I realized we’d be better off just going back inside. I was quite jumpy and shouted “No! Don’t touch that! NO!”
“Why, Mama? Is the ice coming again?” Ouch.
Yesterday, Clayton came home from school with some news “My friend said that the ice balls hit all the cars, and kids.” Later he said “If ice comes again, we should cover the car with twenty towels.” Clearly his little brain is working overtime about it, trying to figure out what happened. Samuel also seemed to be asking a lot of questions, particularly about what we were doing and what we were going to do. When I said we were going to eat dinner, take a bath, and go to bed, he said “And then what are we going to do?”  Over, and over and over again. I think he needed to feel secure and safe, and to know that we had a plan that did not involve ice hitting cars and kids and running off to church in chaos.
We are so grateful that nobody was physically injured. Despite the playground rumors of ice hitting kids, I’m only aware of a few people getting bruised and scraped, no serious injuries, and nobody in our family or church. Still, I want to do everything I can to guard their minds and hearts and help protect them from their fears. Children are so sensitive, and I know they can pick up on the anxiety all around them.
Here are four things we’ve tried to do in the past couple of days, based on what we’ve read about young children and how to help them with the stress and trauma of natural disaster. In the scheme of things, our disaster is a minor inconvenience, but these things still apply in large or small disruptions to daily life…
1. Maintain routines, and rituals: I was delighted to read this as a helpful suggestion from the NAEYC, because we love rituals and routines in our house. (Occupational hazard!)  The past two nights we’ve focused on lots of snuggles and a blessing. When there’s chaos all around, we need to feel safe and protected — applies to every day, but especially super-chaotic ones.
2. Help children to feel in control: In our house we’ve been giving very detailed answers to Samuel’s questions about what is happening next, even though it’s repetitive. (Sheesh, kid, how many times can I tell you that after we take a bath, we’re going to bed!). We’re also giving lots of choices, even more than normal.
3. Let the children lead the discussion: Our children are three and four, so we’re trying not to talk about the hail damage all the time in front of them (even though there’s been a lot to talk about!) We answer their questions as briefly and truthfully as possible, and move on to something else.
4. Talk about how to be safe in natural disasters: I read at least six articles this week as I was trying to think about how to help Clayton and Sam process all of this. One piece of advice that came up a lot that maybe wouldn’t have come to me naturally was to help talk more about what we do when there is a storm.  “Whenever a storm comes, we go into our house and stay away from the windows. That’s how you stay safe.” We looked at some pictures of sun and rain and snow and ice and talked about the difference. We remembered how fun it was to play in the snow at grandma’s house and talked about how some days are sunny and some are not.
I hope we don’t face too many storms like this when Clayton and Sam are growing up. Based on what I’ve heard, it’s very unlikely that hail like this will come to us again, but I do hope to do what I can to help my children and other children, should they need help processing these types of disasters. Prayers for all of the families in Japan.

A Case for Letting Children Open Birthday Presents in Front of Their Peers


When I was a child, I opened my birthday presents in front of the friends who gave them to me. It was the best, most magical part of the party. All the presents! Unwrapping them! The joy! When I went to a birthday party, my favorite part of the party was watching my friend open the present I had picked out just for him (or her).

When my own children started to get invited to parties, I noticed that this is not the “way it’s done” anymore (at least, a lot of the time it’s not.) Now, it seems, the trend is to put the gift on a table and leave it there. The birthday child doesn’t have the joy of opening the presents in front of the friends, and the giver never gets to see the child open the present.  I think this is a shame, and worthy of closer examination.

Why opening presents in front of peers is good for the receiver (the birthday child): 

  • It’s pure joy… this is the most obvious thing that’s lost when the child opens the presents after the party. Who among us who had the opportunity to open a whole group of presents at a birthday party doesn’t remember the excitement? Why have we decided to take this away?
  • It’s an opportunity for children to practice gratitude: After opening each gift, we have the opportunity to teach children to look the gift giver in the eye and think of a unique way to say thank you for the gift they have received: “I love the color of this gift!” or “You knew that I loved Elsa and you picked it out just for me!” or “Thank you so much for thinking of me! I love it!”
  • It’s an opportunity for children to practice sparing each other’s feelings: I distinctly remember the first time I got a gift I didn’t like. It was from my grandma. I looked at her and said “Oh, grandma! Thank you so much!” I remember it, because I remember my mom taking me aside later and saying “I know you didn’t like that gift that grandma gave you, and I’m so proud of you for not letting her know. You made sure her feelings didn’t get hurt.” How can we expect children to learn these skills if we don’t give them the opportunity to practice when they are small? In the privacy of home, after the party is over and the children have gone, it’s easy for children to tear through a sea of nameless, faceless gifts and criticize them or toss them into a pile.

Why opening presents in front of peers is good for the giver (the guests): 

  • It’s pure joy: I remember the joy my preschool aged child had when he picked out a gift for his friend at school. “She loves Elsa” he said as we wandered around Target. He lovingly picked out an Elsa present, put it in an Elsa bag and couldn’t wait to give it to his friend. A parent whisked it away and put it on the table with all the other gifts and we never saw it again. I think he would have been so happy to have seen her open it. We went to a party a few weeks later where the birthday child was opening the presents and my children could hardly contain themselves. “When is he going to open ours?” they kept whispering. When the birthday child got to their gift, they were beaming with joy. They talk about it all the time.  It’s so much fun to give a gift to someone, much more fun than receiving a gift, even for most adults I know. Why do we rob our children’s birthday guests the joy of giving in this way?
  • It’s a reminder that it’s someone else’s turn to be the center of attention: “It’s not always about me” is a good reminder to have throughout life, is it not? When it’s time for the birthday child to open his or her gifts, it’s a reminder that it’s their special day, not your special day. What if the child feels jealous? All the more reason to practice this discipline, and work through it. As an adult I had plenty of opportunities to sit through bridal showers and baby showers when I was neither married nor expecting, plenty of opportunities to feel a twinge of sadness or pain, and plenty of opportunities to remember “It’s not about me today.” I think this was a lesson I learned in childhood.
  • It’s a chance to practice being content with what we have to offer: What if another child gives a gift that’s flashier or better or more appreciated than our gift was? It happens. I remember having very little money in seminary and having to give a wedding gift to someone that wasn’t expensive, or valuable, but thoughtful. I was proud of the gift, but still a little embarrassed. If we’re worried about the financial commitment of giving a birthday gift, we can teach our children how to put great thought and love in to making a gift for a friend or how to give a gift of time or experience. As an adult I’ve given close friends or family the gift of listing out reasons I love them, or lists of experiences we’ve shared together. They’ve been more warmly received than anything I could have bought.
  • Something is lost when we drop the gift on the table and run. We’re doing our children a disservice by “doing” gift giving in this way.

So… how did this tradition get started? Why aren’t children opening gifts in front of their peers anymore? 

A friend and I were talking about this awhile ago, and we couldn’t figure it out. “Maybe it’s because the parents think children will be upset if someone gives a better gift than they do,” she speculated. Key word there are the parents think. This is a projection of an adult feeling onto children, in my opinion and experience. For all the reasons listed above, gift giving at parties is great for children, both as givers and receivers.  I’m not sure how this tradition got started, or why, but I’m hopeful that we’ll go back to the way it was when I was a child, not because times were better back then, but because the “opening gifts part” is the best part! Bring it back!

I’m curious about your thoughts!


It’s Here! It’s Here! 2016 Family Practices Calendar!


Back for 2016, the wildly popular Lenten Practices Family Calendar! Families loved this calendar last year, and this year it’s available for $1.00 for personal use. See other listings for church use.

The activities on the calendar are based around the “3 Pillars” of Lent. Prayer [P], Fasting [F] and Almsgiving/Service [S]. The pillars are rotated throughout lent with simple activities. On the prayer days, use the word provided to inspire a prayer you write, draw, or sing. All of the activities are suggestions. Modify them for your own family. © Traci Smith, 2016. All rights reserved.

There are some notable changes with the calendar this year.

1. Based on feedback from last year, there are no fasting activities on Sunday, in accordance with Roman Catholic Tradition. (Note: severe restriction of food is *not* the type of fasting recommended in these activities, they are much milder, such as refraining from sweets for a day, or similar.)

2. This calendar includes a coupon code for FREE SHIPPING for my book, Seamless Faith, from Chalice Press.

Please see last year’s calendar for an example of the kinds of activities included. This calendar is very similar, has some duplications from last year, but also has plenty of new material to keep it fresh and interesting.

Get it here

Make a Memory Table for Someone Who has Died #AllSaintsDay #KidMin


Tomorrow is All Saint’s Day. Today is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve. There are so many cultural traditions around this time of year in the US… dressing up, carving pumpkins, trick-or-treating. The one tradition that I like to emphasize with families is the idea of remembering family members who have gone before us. On All Saints’ Day, November 1, we name those who are important to us who are now part of the church triumphant.

This activity, creating a memory table, is a way to teach children about someone they may not have had the chance to know who is important in your family. Alternatively, it’s a way to remember a family member or friend who has died. There are more detailed instructions in the book  (along with 49 other activities!) but here’s how I did our memory table this morning with my boys, ages 3 and 4.

I gathered a few things together that reminded me of my grandmother, Fern Smith, whom they have never met.

  • A picture of her
  • A crochet hook and crochet project (because she liked to crochet)
  • Measuring spoons (because she was an excellent cook and baker)
  • A Beatrix Potter book (because she brought home some Beatrix Potter prints from England)
  • A few candles

I said “I made this table of things about my grandma, your great grandma, and I want to tell you about them.” I explained each of the things and then lit the candles. I said “My grandma was a very special person, just like your grandma. Amen.” And then we blew out the candles. Very simple. It would have been a much more involved conversation if my children were older, and I think in future years we will be able to have longer conversations. As my children get older, I’d like them to be involved in selecting the items that go on the memory table.

What do you think, would you make a memory table for someone in your family? What would you put on it?