How Do You Explain the Easter Story to Young Kids?
- Bethany Pyle Editor, BibleStudyTools.com
- Updated Apr 06, 2023
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
All holidays are exciting, especially for young kids. But there’s something about Easter that just fills you up with joy. From Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies, to marching around the church waving a palm branch, there’s plenty of excitement to keep kids engaged this season. But Easter, specifically resurrection Sunday, is perhaps the holiest holiday in the Christian calendar. It’s good to have fun at this time, but there’s a very important story that goes along with it.
And that story can be… difficult to explain to little guys.
I know many parents of toddlers and preschoolers are scratching their heads in this Spring season. They know Easter is coming, and are trying to think of the best way to tell the Easter story to their kids. The story of Jesus’ arrest, execution, and resurrection is certainly the most important story in all of Scripture. Every other story points forward or backward to this momentous event.
But the story of Jesus’ suffering and death can be a hard one, especially for little hearts and minds. I’m not a parent myself, but I’ve done a lot of childcare over the years. I’ve babysat a preschool boy who only wanted to read the crucifixion story, and was fascinated by the picture of Jesus on the cross. I’ve watched a preschool girl who burst into tears at the first 10 minutes of “The Prince of Egypt” as baby Moses floated down the river. So I know kids react differently to stories.
As a parent or caregiver, you know your child’s maturity level, understanding, and squeamishness better than anyone. But even for the most sensitive little one, the Easter story is one of miraculous hope and joy. Together, we’ll dig into some do’s and don’ts of talking about this with young kids. But first, let’s refresh ourselves on the main points of the Easter story:
What Is the Easter Story?
I’ll try to wrap up the whole thing in a few preschool-friendly bullet points:
- Everyone sins (makes wrong choices) and can’t be together with God because of it.
- Jesus was the only person who didn’t ever sin. He was perfect all the time!
- Even though Jesus never disobeyed or broke the law, he was arrested and sentenced to die on a cross.
- The Roman and Jewish leaders thought they hatched this plan, but it was secretly God’s plan to save His people.
- Jesus was beat up, and the people made fun of him. He had to carry the cross to the top of a hill, and was very sad.
- He was put on the cross, and he died there. He was buried in a tomb.
- After three days, some women went to the tomb to mourn, but an angel was there and said that Jesus was alive!
- Jesus then went to see some of his friends, and even a crowd of people. He even ate with some of them. He was really alive again!
- Jesus paid the cost of our sin. He took our punishment because we couldn’t handle it. It was too big for us, but not for Jesus. He did it because he loves us.
Now, how to go through these points with your child?
Do: Tell them the whole story, in an age-appropriate way
Don’t: “Clean up” the Bible story, or leave things out
I once got to take a class in college all about children’s picture books. (It was delightful.) But one of the things we discussed quite a bit was what even young children want in a story. Overall, they don’t want a cleaned-up, fluffy story. They want something that reflects real life. The short explanation: Kids can handle it!
Don’t be afraid to share the Easter story with your little ones because it may be too scary. There’s a good way to convey to them that Jesus did something scary, and died, without causing nightmares. For example, you probably don’t need to include a lot of details about how he died, other than that it was on the cross. But don’t be tempted to say things like “Jesus was asleep” or “He went into a cave and came out three days later.” Those things just aren’t true, and will only confuse your child as they grow and learn more of the story.
It would help to find some ways to connect it to your kids lived experience. Maybe you have a thornbush in your backyard, or gumballs that fall from the trees. Talk to your kids about how it hurts to touch these prickly shrubs, and how Jesus hurt when they made a crown out of that and put it on his head. Talk to your kids about how it feels when someone teases them or makes fun, and how Jesus felt sad when people made fun of him too. Whatever you can include to help it “click” with your little ones, without frightening them, will help.
And most importantly, make sure they know that Jesus chose to do all these things. Why? Because he loves you and your kiddo SO much! He didn’t want us to hurt, so he took that hurt for us.
Do: Talk about the sad parts of Easter
Don’t: Stay there! There is joy in the resurrection!
My first point being said, don’t sit in the sad parts of the story for too long! It isn’t the most important part. Once you’ve talked about the sad parts of the crucifixion, rejoice with your kiddos that that isn’t the end of the story! Jesus was dead, but He was raised to life three days later, and we will share in that eternal life one day too.
Easter is one of my favorite holidays because the season matches the story. Everything seems to be coming back to life, from trees and flowers to my own social schedule. The world is bright and full of color again! It’s almost as if the world is celebrating our risen Savior with us, by proving that death is not the end.
Make this season fun for your kids by looking into some cool ways to explore Easter themes with them. You could explain the Easter story by putting different symbols in plastic eggs and opening them together (a flower for Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, a coin for Judas’ betrayal, a nail for the crucifixion, an empty egg for the empty tomb). You could also try baking “empty tomb rolls” – what preschooler wouldn’t love discussing Bible stories while snacking on marshmallows?
Depending on how old and mature your child is, the deeper parts of this story – that Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we can have eternal life – may go right over their heads. By all means talk about that with them! But for little ones, I think it’s important enough that they know Jesus died, he came back to life, and he did it all because he loves them.
As Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, for everything there is a season. Don’t shy away from the sad parts of the story with your preschooler, but don’t forget to celebrate the joy that comes in the morning as well.
Do: Make it relatable for them
Don’t: Compare it to a fairytale or comic book
I’m not a parent, but I imagine one of the hardest things about explaining this story must be convincing your media-focused kiddos that this story is real.
I’m a huge fantasy lover, so I know that you’d be hard-pressed to find a fantasy story out there that doesn’t include some form of resurrection. Harry Potter, Gandalf, Captain America and half the characters in “Star Wars” go through some sort of resurrection. It’s such a common theme because it’s so incredible! There’s another article to be written about why we love this trope in stories so much, but the bottom line is that all of those stories are imaginary. They are all based on the one true story.
Jesus’ resurrection is the only one that is true. Drive this home with your little ones, and maybe talk about where they’ve seen this idea elsewhere, but don’t be tempted to compare Jesus’ resurrection to a fictional story. This article explains that children are able to start telling the difference between reality and fantasy between ages 3 and 5. So depending on your kid’s age, this may still be a hard concept for them. But you can still talk about it together. Maybe your conversation will look something like this:
“Is Captain America real? No he’s just someone pretend that we watch on TV. He’s really cool, but did he really come back to life? No, that was just a pretend story. What about Jesus? Was Jesus a real person like you and me? Yes He was! How do you know? Because the Bible says so, and the Bible is God’s Word. Did Jesus really come back to life after He died on the cross? Yes he did! Isn’t that amazing? And he did it because he loves (child’s name) SO much!”
Do: Look for helpful resources for kids
Don’t: Read them the story from an adult Bible
Don’t jump on my back over this just yet! You can and should read the adult Bible to your kids. All I’m saying is that the Easter story takes up several chapters in the Gospels, and I can guarantee your 4-year-old is going to zone out after 4 verses, max. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it to them anyway.
There are great children’s Bibles and storybooks out there that are designed to capture a child’s attention and make the story stick. It isn’t just about entertaining them, it’s about getting the truth of God’s word to stay in their minds, and hopefully their hearts. Look out for a good book you can share with them this season (may I suggest the Jesus Storybook Bible?)
Likewise, talk to your church’s children’s minister or Sunday school teacher. I teach preschool Sunday school, and we have so many resources we can share with parents to reinforce the lessons we teach. There are coloring pages, activities, memory verses and songs that will all help these important stories to stick with them. (Raise your hand if you grew up in church and can still sing those repetitive Sunday school songs!)
So parents and caregivers, if you are worried about explaining Easter to your little ones this year, try not to stress. You’ve got this! Take a deep breath, pray about it, and just talk to your child the way you normally do. Be honest, make it relatable for them, and have fun! Easter is an incredible time of the year to celebrate Jesus!
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Sorapop
Bethany Pyle is the editor for Bible Study Tools.com and the design editor for Crosscards.com. She has a background in journalism and a degree in English from Christopher Newport University. When not editing for Salem, she enjoys good fiction and better coffee.