It is a terrible thing to have to deal with grief. It is one of those emotions we can only imagine until we experience it. Think therefore, no matter hard it is for us adults, just how a debilitating experience it can be for children to deal with grief. Losing a family member, a friend or even a classmate is confusing and frightening. Children dealing with grief need emotional support and understanding. You too may be grieving, but as a parent, you have the double whammy of shouldering your children’s burden too, helping them through what it a very sad time. Here are 8 tips for Parents to Help Children Deal with Grief:
1 Don’t Hide It
There is no benefit to anyone to you hiding your own emotions. Having to deal with grief is a just part of life and unfortunately sometimes, a part of growing up. Allow yourself time and space to grieve normally.
2 Be Responsive
No matter how much you might be battling your own emotions, be there for your child. It isn’t a case of ignoring what you’re feeling, nor ignoring what has happened. It is about creating an atmosphere where children can deal with grief effectively in a protected, comfort zone – i.e. in the bosom of people who love them and who they love back. Children are often better at hiding their feelings than adults. Let them know their emotions are normal and there is nothing wrong with them being sad and maybe angry, which will happen in some circumstances.
3 Be Tough
You may face some difficult times. If you are a surviving parent for example, you might face some highly emotional instances. Sadness and grief could outwardly manifest itself in ways that will hurt you – such as why did Daddy die and leave me with you? This kind of thing will cut you to the quick. Know how you will respond. (If it happens more frequently than you’d like, maybe you have a deeper rooted problem that just children dealing with grief.)
Children are often as good if not better than adults at hiding their emotions, but they are also incredibly curious. Help kids deal with grief by encouraging questions. Make sure your child knows that is perfectly ok to talk about death and its meaning.
5 Keep It Real
Vague responses are not going to help anyone deal with grief. Sometimes, understanding it breeds emotional acceptance. Avoid using abstract, vague phrases that only lead to confusion. Phrases such as ‘left us’ or ‘gone away’ do not answer the burning questions.
6 Keep It Simple
Death should be explained in simple, literal, and easy to understand terms. Aging is a natural process and as we grow older we know death is ever closer, but as young children, even though they may know granny was very old, their concept of aging is still shallow and unformed. Old age, accidents and illness can be explained with terms such as her body stopped working, or her body was so badly hurt the doctors couldn’t fix it.
7 The Funeral
It is important to consider if a grieving child should go to the funeral. There are many opinions on this – who is to say what is right or wrong, but as a parent make a decision based on how your child has handled the grieving process. Saying goodbye to a loved one is an excellent aid to deal with grief. If you decide your child should attend the funeral, take time to explain what will happen, and address such issues that the deceased will not be able to see, hear or feel what is happening.
Even if you are not a religious family, the books of faith can be very comforting and may provide words where you have none.
Overall, remember, there is no ‘correct’ way to grieve and each child will deal with grief in their own individual way and as a parent, it is your duty to find the best way to help them through it, being supportive and comforting.
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