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.