How To Help Your Kids Process Kobe Bryant’s Death

The tragic news out of California today has so many in the nation in shock and disbelief. When I first saw an article posted on Facebook, I admit, I rolled my eyes and thought, “no way. I hope this is one of those fake news articles that’s meant to just get everyone all riled up.” Unfortunately, I was completely wrong. It soon became all too real: Kobe Bryant had passed. Later news including the death of his 13 year old daughter, Gianna, and thus far a reported teammate of Gianna’s, that teammate’s parent and the pilot of the helicopter.

One of my brothers is a big sports fan. He’s usually who I reach out to when there is shocking news regarding any sports issue. As we texted for a few minutes, we acknowledged that this news hits hard. Kobe is close to my brother’s age. I made the comment to my brother that Kobe is to this generation of kids what Michael Jordan was to me and my siblings growing up….the G.O.A.T. Like him or dislike him, I believe Kobe was respected across the board for his skills, stats and mamba mentality. 

So, how do we help our kids process this event? 

1. Be aware of their news and social media intake during this time. Be willing to cut them off from the over-intake of “news”. Updates will of course continue to be released as time goes on. However, the news media can become never-ending “loops” of non-information, information. It is important for their mental and emotional health not to get stuck in this loop—-encourage a walk outside (yes, even in this cold weather); play with toys away from iPads and other electronics that access news; a family activity….coloring, board-games, baking a sweet treat, etc. Give their brain and emotions a break from the 24/7-ness (is that a word?) of the bad news cycle.

2. Don’t minimize their feelings. For some parents, it may seem odd that our child is having BIG FEELINGS about a person they’ve most likely never met. However, with any celebrity death, there is a degree to which we feel like we “know” the person. When it’s a movie or TV star, we think of the characters they played. There is a degree to which they were “in our homes” on a regular basis. If you’re old enough to remember Princess Diana’s death or more recently Robin Williams, Luke Perry or Carrie Fisher….there are celebrities that create a national (or global) type of mourning. It can be similar with sports stars. Often, sports celebrities are where kids find heroes, role-models and inspiration for who they want to be when they grow up. It’s important to validate their feelings of loss and grief—big or small. Reminding them they’ve never met a person doesn’t take away their feelings about it, rather it communicates that they shouldn’t feel how they feel which is more confusing than helpful.

3. Celebrity deaths can stir up previous loss and grief memories. This is quite normal, especially if the loss was recent and even more so, especially for children. The news of a celebrity death bombards most people’s lives in an intense and saturated way. With children especially, associating a high-news-event such as this alongside the loss of a pet, a grandparent, or other significant loss in their life is common. Be prepared to answer basic questions regarding death and loss. 

4. Questions and fears are normal; give them space to express those without dismissal or minimizing. For some children this may be their first experience with death. The added layer of Kobe’s daughter having died alongside him might also hit deeper as the realization that “she was just a kid too” can hit hard. In most kids’ worlds, death is something that happens to “old” people….like grandmas and grandpas. Not someone they watch on TV, follow on social media, or another kid like them. This realization can spark questions (and fears) about their potential death (or yours). It can feel tempting to promise them that you’ll never die as a way of subduing their fear in the moment. However, this is inaccurate. First, you (as well as everyone on this earth) will eventually die. Two, none of us know when we will die. Making a promise like this to our children is not healthy and could potentially cause greater damage in the future. So what are things we can say that are honest but still help our children calm their fear or anxiety?

  • Every day that we get to spend together is a gift of time from the Lord. There is no way to predict when one of us will die. That is why it’s important to make the most of everyday.
  • One day I will die, that is true. However, God’s Word teaches us that we do not have to fear death because He will bring us all together again. And we can trust in God’s promises.
  • It is true that people die. Unfortunately, this happens to everyone eventually. And it’s important that we don’t spend all of our time together worried about what will happen in the future.  God wants us to make the most of the time that we have in the present, right now. 
  • One day, yes, I will die. However, I don’t live in fear of that day because I trust that God keeps his promises and that He will make sure that you’re (and/or other family members) are okay. He will always be with you.

5. Although not as likely, some children and teens might experience clinical depression (of any severity). While this is normally a symptom of a more underlying issue, it is important to be watchful and attentive of the bigger signs that something is wrong (lack of appetite, over or under-sleeping that is not normal, lack of desire to engage in activities that were previously fun, lack of hygiene (that isn’t normal), and lethargy. If you begin to see these signs, it would be recommended to get your child to a doctor or therapist.

The Big Leap

My therapist looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Taryn, I think this is gonna be the absolute best thing for you.” I couldn’t contain my tears as I thought about everything that this decision entailed. She continued, “I think you’re going to love Iowa.” 

I couldn’t even think about loving Iowa. I was still too numb from the hurt and betrayal that had come just two months prior. How had my life taken a path that was leading me away from everything and everyone I had ever known? Away from anything familiar. Away from my whole life. How in the world was I going to “love” a place that wasn’t Nashville, TN?

I remember going home that afternoon and continuing to pack up my things. I had moved twice before but those times had felt more like a choice. Each time had come with excited anticipation about a new beginning. This time was different–it felt like a “have-to”. The presence of deep grief and loss overshadowed any excitement possible. I called my mentor that afternoon and asked, “Do you think moving to Iowa is just me running away from my problems?” Without hesitation she answered me, “Taryn, I don’t think you’ve ever run from any problem in your entire life!” Despite her reassurances, I felt like Daniel (from the Bible) must have felt when he was thrown in that lion’s den….before God showed up; before God rescued him from certain death.

Have you been there my friend? Have your dreams and plans fallen and shattered all around you? Where you once felt control over your future, you now feel like a pawn being aimlessly moved around a chess board by someone else’s hand? After experiencing this myself I can assure you of one thing:

IT’S GONNA GET BETTER!

This week, I celebrate my two year anniversary of calling Iowa home. My therapist? She was right. Moving to Iowa WAS the best thing for me. And I do love it! I mistakenly thought that I had to completely heal first before I should make a move (both career wise and on the home-front). “God’s going to use this move to continue your healing,” were wise words from my mentor. I couldn’t see it at the time. I was going through the motions, I was doing the next best thing, I was making decisions based on logic rather than emotion and I was scared to death of it all. I tend to be an all or nothing kind of thinker—since I wasn’t all healed up, I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t!) have a position in ministry. 

(Sometimes) God doesn’t need you to be all healed up before moving your influence or using you for a new task. Sometimes the new task or environment will be the source of healing. For me, moving to Iowa was the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever taken. I moved here scared, shaken, ashamed, my self-confidence depleted, my trust destroyed, my ability to let others love me gone, my belief that I was worthy of anything good completely dissipated. I remember driving across the i74 bridge, crossing over the Mississippi River and the Iowa state line right around sunset thinking, “God, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing. But please don’t let me be hurt again. My heart can’t take it and I won’t be able to afford a move back to Tennessee anytime soon.”

Oh if the Taryn of 2019 could be in the truck with me that day! She’d be able to say, “Oh honey (I call everyone honey), God’s gonna blow your mind! He’s not giving you one last chance with a side of left-overs….just you wait! He’s gonna give you more than you could even ask for or imagine! Right over this bridge is gonna be a new church family that’s going to straight up LOVE you, literally hundreds of kids that are going to fill your heart up; friends that are going to honor you; the chance to fulfill your calling of pursuing your doctorate; a crazy intro into the world of Taekwondo (which will also play a part in your healing); Whitey’s Ice Cream; a little orange cat named Theo; being just two hours away from the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois; a house that has a basement and where there aren’t any shootings or drug deals on a regular basis; the wonder that is the annual TugFest; a T-Rex costume that’s going to get you in the paper and not only that but a Triceratops AND a Pterodactyl to go with it; access to beautiful river sunsets that are going to help you breathe and bask in wonder on a regular basis; and SO. MUCH. MORE. 

I’m so glad I didn’t let my (what turned out to be) momentary fear get in the way of all this blessing!

Halfway to BlackBelt and Even Further to Healing

I’m celebrating the one year mark of my Taekwondo journey today. From the time that I began, I have heard that Taekwondo is an individual journey—there’s no race to black belt. As I have moved up the ranks, I’ve told new students, frustrated by their perceived lack of progress, the same thing. There is a great honor in finishing what you set out to accomplish, no matter what finishing looks like for you.

Similarly, the reason why each person begins their journey is different. I was never interested in the martial arts. When I was a kid, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michelangelo was the coolest, let’s settle that right now) and the lesser known 3 Ninjas (I see you Tum Tum) but it never really transferred over into a personal goal like those movies do for some. My brother actually won a year’s worth of Karate lessons but my parents refused to let him take lessons for fear that he would be beating people up in the neighborhood (way to go mom and dad!). All of that to say, I never imagined that at 32 years old, I’d don a white belt and a dobok and eventually find my ki-hap inside of me. However, as I reflect on the past year, I’ve realized there’s so much more under the surface of my journey. For me, Taekwondo has been a key component of my mental and emotional health. Struggling with a lot of anger, anxiety, fear, hurt and trauma from people and circumstances in days past, I was sitting in my therapists office when she suggested, “what if you took Taekwondo?” and she listed the benefits of the martial arts. I took her suggestion seriously and went home that day to do some research. I made a phone call and from that moment, my journey was more than just earning a black-belt, it was another tool to help me heal.

I see God’s hand in the timing of me finding Taekwondo. My Taekwondo Master has been teaching for 38 years. As I reflected on my “Taekwondo birthday”, I realized that before I was even born, God began a solution to a problem that I didn’t even know I had yet. And now today, one year to the date of sitting in that office, crying and scared, I am half-way to black belt and even further in my journey of personal healing. 

If you’d like to read about the benefits of Taekwondo for children and adults, CLICK HERE. ***Note, this website is not the location where I train but has great information regarding the benefits.