Helping Your Child Deal with Grief
Children often grieve over the loss of a pet, a friend who no longer wants to be friends, or a loved one who has passed away. Unlike adults, a child may not know how to express the confusing emotions that bombard them when they are experiencing grief, and may begin to act out in inappropriate ways. As a parent, you hurt for your child, and may often ask yourself “How can I help my child overcome their grief?”
If you want to aide your child through their grieving, you should begin by familiarizing yourself with the five stages of grief that everyone, no matter their age, experiences. These stages are:
The Five Stages of Grief
1.) Denial and Isolation
By learning the ends and outs of these stages, you will be able to recognize which stage your child is experiencing, and better understand their emotional outburst, their actions, and their state of mind. Depending upon your child’s age, you can share the information you have learned about these stages with them.
The best way to help your child get to the fifth stage (acceptance) is by getting them to open up. Commit yourself to sitting down one on one with your child, and giving them your full attention. If your child seems unwilling to open up to you, try gently prompting them by asking open ended questions as opposed to questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Instead of asking them “Are you okay?” try asking “How are you feeling today?” When put this way, it is harder for your child to blow you off, and requires them to put some thought into their answer.
The goal is to get them to start talking without becoming overly pushy. If your child views you as being a “nag”, this can cause them to become even more tightly lipped and distant. Unfortunately finding this balance is not always easy. However, no one knows your child better than you, and you will be able to “read” your child’s behavior. Start off by asking your child one question, repeat their response back to them in your own words (this validates their feelings, and shows them that you are, in fact, listening to them), and then judge how your child is acting. If they don’t seem to put off, try another question. If they seem resentful of your questions, then perhaps wrapping your arms around them and simply saying “I’m sorry you are hurting” is better.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is to tell someone else that how they feel is wrong. There is no such thing as right or wrong feelings, and it is important that you never tell someone what they feel is wrong simply because their feelings do not align with yours. Let your child know that they are not wrong for feeling a certain way, and that their anger, depression, anxiety, and denial are all perfectly common.
If you child just flat out refuses to speak with you about their feelings, purchase a journal for them. As you give them their journal explain to them that the purpose is that they write down all of their feelings, no matter what they may be. Remind them that a piece of paper cannot tell on them, cannot judge them, or tell them that they are wrong. Promise your child that you will not read their journal and will respect their privacy.
Another good idea to help your child overcome their grief would be to have them see a counselor. This doesn’t have to be a licensed child therapist. All you need is to find someone that your child feels comfortable enough with, that they can vent to (a mentor at school, an elder in your church, an unbiased family friend). It is especially good if you can find someone who has had an experience similar to the one your child is going through.
The more you can get your child to express, the better it will help them to understand their feelings, and the quicker they will move through the stages of grief.