How can we better help children with grief? As a society we haven’t done a very good job. We encourage children to express joy when they are happy; but we discourage them from expressing their sadness when they are unhappy. These mixed messages have contributed to most of us growing into adults who try to cover up our heartbreak. We walk around pretending we are okay; or worse yet, we turn to short term energy-relieving behaviors (like alcohol, drugs, shopping, anger, etc.) to “numb the pain.” These behaviors do little to help address our grief in the long run.
MOST COMMON CHILDHOOD LOSSES
The Grief Recovery Method® lists the following as the most common losses experienced by a child:
Death of a pet
Death of a grandparent
Divorce of parents
Death of a parent
How can we better help our children grow into adults who can deal with these losses? It may be hard for many of us to change, but our children need us to take the lead when it comes to loss. We have to learn to replace our old behaviors with new ones when it comes to grief. This means we need to look long and hard about how we deal with and react to loss in our own lives. If we can do that, our children have more of chance of being successful in their own lives. The book When Children Grieve states, “Establishing a foundation for effectively dealing with loss can be one of the greatest gifts you give you child.”
WAYS TO HELP A GRIEVING CHILD
Here are six ways you can help a child who is grieving:
Allow all emotions to be expressed, without judgment, criticism, or analysis.
Avoid the trap of asking a child what is wrong since he or she will automatically say, “Nothing.”
Adults – Go first. Telling the truth about your own grief will make your child feel safe in opening up about his or her own feelings.
Remember the reaction a child has is unique to them. If you have more than one child, respect that each of their reactions will probably be different.
Acknowledge your child’s emotions before addressing the facts. Listen with your heart and not your head. If your child brings up the same issue over and over again, it means they are not being heard.
Make sure your verbal and non-verbal communications match. Children may respond incorrectly to their loss if they feel you are teaching them to “do as I say, not as I do.”
Our children look up to us. They tend to do as we do. It’s important that as adults, we communicate accurately about our emotions so that our children can see, copy and learn. Helping them will ensure they can more effectively deal with grief and loss events throughout their lives.
Sending you love, comfort and peace!