There are times when a loss affects the entire family.
The loss of a family member or close friend, the loss of a child’s school buddy or neighborhood pal; these types of losses can cause the entire family to grieve.
Grieving together as a family can be very difficult as everyone tends to grieve a little differently.
It is particularly hard to help a child grieve, because it is almost unnatural for a child to have to walk through this kind of a loss at such a young age.
We want our children to always be happy and carefree, we certainly don’t want to see our children grieve.
But sometimes events happen that are beyond our control that break our children’s hearts, and we are called upon to help them navigate the stormy seas of grief.
5 Ways to Help Your Child Grieve
1. Model emotions for them
If your child is preschool age, or even in the early years of grade school, they may not completely comprehend what it is that they are feeling. Very likely they are feeling a lot of jumbled emotions at one time: sorrow, guilt, anger, disappointment, loss…and it’s hard for them to know what their emotions mean and how to express them.
Take some time to share what you are feeling and how you express that emotion in a healthy way; then let them know that it is okay to feel that emotion and different ways they can express it, too.
You can say something like, “The other day I found a picture of Grandma holding you when you were a baby. It made me miss her so much and it made me feel sad. I cried when I saw the picture. Would you like to see the picture? Does it make you sad, too? It’s okay to cry, if you want to. We can cry together.”
2. Explain to them what death is and what to expect
Likely this is the first time your child has experienced a loss like this, and the unfamiliarity of it can be very frightening. Suddenly there are a lot of people around him, maybe relatives that he’s never seen before. Funerals being planned, family get-togethers,
There maybe changes in your child’s routine. If Grandma was a regular part of his life, this part of his life will forever be altered. Sit down and explain to him what this loss will mean for him and how it will impact his normal routine. If changes suddenly occur without being explained first, it will only make the trauma much greater for him.
Share with him what a funeral is and what it means in an age-appropriate way. Older children may need to understand about cremation and burial.
One thing you will want to avoid is saying something like, “Grandma has gone on a long trip, she wont be around for a while”. In the future, if you ever take a long trip, they will connect the two events and it will cause incredible anxiety for them.
Young children may find death to be too abstract a concept; so you can say something like, “Grandma went to live with Jesus. We wont see her for a very long time and we will miss her. But one day, when we see her again, we’ll give her a big, big hug!”
3. Express emotions through creativity
If your child is having a particularly difficult time opening up, you can use creative play to help them express their emotions.
Using things like coloring, painting, playdough, blocks, building bricks, dolls, and other creative outlets; ask them about what they are building or creating.
One caution is, don’t hover. Your child may need some time and space to express himself first. Once he has created something, ask him about it and see if there is a way you can connect his creation to a memory of his lost loved one.
Creative play can be a very powerful way to help your child open up and express all of the confusing feelings he has inside.
4. Give them a memorable item
Giving your child a piece of clothing, jewelry, or a photograph of their loved one may give them incredible comfort. Just having a visual reminder or even a shirt that still holds the scent of that loved one, can be so soothing to their emotions.
There are services that will take clothing and make quilts, pillows, and stuffed animals from them as a memory piece.
5. Listen more, talk less
Remember that just as with adults, your child’s emotions may not always be very rational.
If your children expresses guilt for the death of a loved one, don’t tell them to stop feeling the guilt. Instead, help them to understand why they are not guilty and bring them to a place where that emotion simply dissipates.
The best way you can do this is to listen to them more and talk less. Don’t fear your child’s emotions and don’t allow your child’s emotions to cause you to feel guilt either. Instead, take the time to truly listen to their hearts and then lead them to a place of peace.
One more way we can help our children grieve is to understand this one thing.
Children need time to grieve. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean that they get over loss more easily. We often hear that children are resilient; but this doesn’t mean that they feel to a lesser degree than adults do.
They may not fully understand what has happened, but they are impacted by it just the same.
In his book, Grieving With Hope, Samuel J. Hodges shares that it will often appear that children are completely unaffected by grief; when in fact they are grieving intermittently.
They will grieve for a while, then jump up and laugh and play with their siblings. It will appear that they are no longer affected by the event, until later when they are grieving again.
Children need time to fully grieve and as parents we need to be patient and give them room to both play and grieve in intervals.
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