It’s not always easy to know how to help children deal with grief and loss. Nobody wants a young one’s childhood to be marred by sadness, whether caused by a death or other loss.
As a parent, you may rather shelter your kids from difficult situations than traumatize them. And that’s understandable. After all, you want to create the happiest experiences you can while your kids are growing up. Watching your children suffer through grief can be extremely painful.
While every situation and every child are different, there are certain ways to help kids deal with grief and loss.
Expect Big Emotions
Think of how you’ve felt when dealing with intense grief in the past. What emotions come to mind? Did you feel as though you were in control of them?
For many adults, grief and loss cause enormous emotional tumult. We cry, we deny, we argue. And if it’s that hard for adults to go through grief, imagine what it’s like for kids. They don’t have the vocabulary, cognitive development, or life experience that adults do to put grief into context.
So be prepared for your children to express very big emotions in the days, weeks, and months following a loss. They often communicate through their behavior. Increased crying, problems sleeping, regression, and anger are all normal responses to grief. Keep this in mind and don’t punish your child for what may look like misbehavior. Instead, treat them with empathy and love.
Spend Extra Time with Your Kidss
Having extra time with you will also help soothe some of your child’s big emotional pain. Chances are, they’re feeling sadness and dealing with a lot of fear. The reassuring presence of a beloved parent provides emotional comfort and a sense of safety.
Cuddle them more, read more books together, or get out of the house for something fun more often. Shower them with affection. This doesn’t mean you have to “spoil” them, of course. But some extra love never hurt anyone.
When families experience major losses, it’s common to avoid talking about it. This is true whether the loss was due to death, divorce, or other “big” losses. But not talking about it isn’t healthy for anyone, whether adult or child.
Children are more perceptive than you may think, and they can tell when adults are uncomfortable. By learning to talk openly about the situation, with an age-appropriate response, you’ll be helping everyone. When your kids see you acknowledging and addressing emotional pain and loss, they’ll learn that it’s okay to do the same.
As awkward as it can be to talk about certain things, it is better than the fallout created when emotions are stuffed and denied. It also paves the way for healthier communication as your kids grow up.
Along with talking openly about the situation, it’s also important to not use euphemisms that can confuse or frighten children. They often think very concretely. And many terms used to describe grief won’t make sense to them.
Such phrases as “He passed”, “We lost her”, “Spot had to be put to sleep”, and others are things you should strike from your vocabulary when talking with children about a loss.
As much as possible, try to maintain daily routines for your kids during times of loss. This provides them with an external sense of stability.
Knowing what to expect and that some things have not changed creates a sense of security and prevents increased anxiety caused by uncertainty. Children mark time and days by routines such as meals, naps, a bath and book at bedtime, etc. Do your best to keep the structure you had before the loss occurred.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, grief and loss can lead to persistent sadness, anxiety, and depression in children. If your family or child has experienced any sort of loss, be sure to monitor how they’re doing. And reach out for help when their negative emotional responses don’t improve with time.
As mental health professionals who specializes in working with children, we are here to guide you through times like these. Please, feel free to contact us.