Grief is an inevitable part of life. How do you help grieving children? Use these nine steps to help your child understand and process their feelings of grief.
We all grieve differently, but children might need some guidance when it comes to processing their emotions in times of grief. Grief is an inevitable part of life. Whether your child is grieving because they've lost a beloved pet or a loved one, here are nine ways to help your children understand and process grief.
Be calm and collected when you first tell your child that someone has died. Define death in concrete terms. Don’t try to soften the blow with euphemisms such as “God took him”, or “She is with the angels”. These may confuse and scare the child. After making the initial announcement, pause and allow the news to sink in.
Grief in children can manifest in different ways. Some may lash out with feisty temper tantrums. Some will ask a myriad of questions. Others will cry, while some will go silent. Be there to offer hugs and comfort, and field any questions they may have.
Allow your children to see how you engage in the reality of your loss. It’s fine for your child/ren to see you are grieving. Express your sorrow uncensored so that kids may share their feelings of grief without fear of judgment.
Kids are usually good at talking about things. However, they might not have the vocabulary for this new experience of grief and loss. Encourage your kids to try describing their feelings to you. Set an example by saying something like: “I miss grandpa, it makes me feel sad. Are you feeling sad too?”
Equip grieving children with confidence and resilience to get through the events around someone’s death. To help them move through the child grief stages, allow them to attend the memorial service, funeral, or viewing. Explain to them what is going to happen and give them guidelines on how they can respond.
Ask your child if they would like to take part in the funeral. Giving your child a responsibility can help them feel a part of the event and help them cope with all the strangeness. They can pick flowers for the grave, recite a poem at the service, or help select photos for display.
In the days and weeks after the death of someone significant, encourage processing of their emotions and help them to remember the person fondly. Look through photos together, share stories about the person, or encourage them to draw pictures or write down memories.
Monitor, unobtrusively, your child’s emotional wellbeing. Take note if they seem sad or anxious or have trouble sleeping. Let them know that it is ok for them to feel sad. Reassure your child that everything will get better with time.
Let your child be comforted when they feel sad, but don’t allow them to dwell on the grief for long. Distract them with a self-care activity that will help them feel happier. Bake cookies, play a board game or do arts and crafts together.
How children grieve can significantly impact their emotional and cognitive development. Modeling age-appropriate vulnerability and equipping them with tools to process their grief will set them in good stead for the many hurdles life will put in their way. For more helpful parenting tips and ideas for keeping little ones busy, don’t miss your Save mailer!