Grief is overwhelming, regardless of your age. For young children, though, grief hits even harder. As a parent/guardian, you want to help navigate and support a child who is grieving, but you’re unsure how to approach the issue of death (and you’re not alone in this).
On the bright side, there are so many resources for support, advice, and comfort. With a simple Google search, you can find an abundance of resources. You can seek mentorship from your local community or church. There are also countless parenting blogs and support groups (like this one) that are all helping other people like you navigate difficult moments.
Here are some other tools to help you guide your child through grief:
1. Understand your child’s emotions
We all experience grief differently. For children, this may be new territory, though, and as a parent/guardian, you have to be sensitive to that. Young children might not have the words to express what they’re feeling. This may be their first time losing a loved one and they aren’t even seeing it as real.
You have to first be patient with your child and understand that they don’t know how to act appropriately (and it’s okay if they aren’t acting appropriately right now). Being gentle in your approach, your discipline, and your conversations will go a long way.
2. Celebrate the life first
Losing a loved one doesn’t have to be a morbid experience. Encourage your child to open up and have a dialogue about your favorite memories, what you’ll miss, and what matters. Although you won’t see this person anymore, it doesn’t mean that you can’t speak about them.
Allow your child to express his or her creativity, too. You can create a keepsake journal of your loved one’s memories or even build something beautiful, like a memorial stepping stone, that will leave a lasting memory. The important thing is to let your child express his/her emotions in whatever outlet and through whatever means makes sense.
3. Speak openly about death
Death isn’t always talked about in homes, but it’s something that all children are familiar with. Death happens in movies, books, and of course, in real life. Don’t make it a taboo subject. Instead, encourage your child to express his/her emotions in a healthy way as you do the same. Model to your child how to grief, how to share feelings, and how to come together. Remind them that no question is silly and no grieving process is wrong.
4. Create a safe, comfortable environment
After losing a loved one, there’s so much unconscious pressure on parents/guardians to have the “perfect” response or to “get over” things quickly in order to return to normal. Don’t feel pressured to be or do anything, especially for your kid’s sake. If your child sees you and your expression of emotions, you will normalize your child’s reactions and he/she will feel safe in expressing vulnerable thoughts.
There’s a misconception that being “fine” is what will show your child that everything is okay. No. Rather than bottle up your feelings or pretend you’re okay, be honest with your child about how you’re feeling. This will help him/her to know that you are all grieving together — and that will bring you closer.
5. Encourage joy (and the acceptance of it)
Just because you’ve lost someone special doesn’t mean you have to live a life of sadness. Don’t shame your child for having fun, wanting to engage with peers, or even requesting something out of the ordinary (like a sleepover, for example). Just because he/she is asking for this doesn’t mean there’s a lack of empathy — this is just his/her way of grieving and trying to heal.
6. Love on your child who is grieving
Above anything else, loving on your grieving child! This is important. Shower him or her with affection, attention, and support. Remind him/her that they are NOT alone and that you understand what they’re going through. Also, be open to giving him/her space, too. Sometimes we all want a little alone time, and that’s okay.
If you feel your child is really struggling, there is also the option to seek out support groups, grief counselors, or even a therapist to provide a safe outlet for expression outside of the home. But don’t panic. Everything will heal in time. Grief is a process; don’t rush it.
Featured Image Credit: Chinh de Luc