Grief: a word meaning “deep sorrow” and usually associated with extreme loss. We typically associate this word with losing someone close to us, someone like a family member or friend.
Grief can also be felt when mourning the loss of a pet, or possibly moving away from your friends and hometown. If grief isn’t addressed, and merely casually acknowledged, it can be difficult for anyone — especially a child — to process it in a healthy way.
My kids have had minimal experience with grief, and I count my blessings for that. They’ve experienced grief when moving away from their home and friends a handful of times as their parents try to figure life out.
My youngest daughter, Kensey, had her first encounter with grief when her precious beta fish died. Watching tears well up in her eyes, I knew this sadness was a much deeper one than she had felt in the past. She went on to show solemn behavior for the next day, and didn’t act much like herself at all. Once she became more talkative, it was a lot of talk about her fish and not much else. I could tell that these were stages of grief she was working through, and I was there for her for every step of the way. A month later, we still haven’t gotten a new fish. She says she’s just not ready. Grief is a sensitive and tricky process, no matter your age, and shouldn’t be rushed by anyone.
My oldest daughter, Emma, has had a bit more experience with grief in her ten-year lifetime. She had her first experience with grief, as many kids do, when our family dog passed away. It was unexpected, and although he lived a long life, that was her first experience with understanding mortality. She’s experienced other forms of grief when we moved away from her hometown and friends for a few years and has had her own share of deep feelings on the recent school shootings that have been in the news.
Because she suffers from anxiety, I make sure she knows she has a safe space to discuss her feelings and ask questions. She knows she has an ally in me, always, and that she is safe to feel and be herself.
How To Help Your Child Through Grief
Your child may be experiencing his or her own moment with grief. Perhaps there was a death in the family or something traumatic happened. Maybe there is a major life shift that your child was not on board for or ready for, such as a recent divorce or moving. No matter the trauma, your child needs someone to help them in their darkest moments, and there are ways to be of help.
Answer the questions they ask…even the hard ones. Kids learn by asking questions.
Be sure to make the message clear to your child that you are someone they can trust and talk to when they are experiencing grief. That comes from an open line of communication and a trusting environment.
Be sure to make their feelings the star. If you’re mutually experiencing loss, do not bring your own personal trauma about the situation into the conversation. It minimizes their feelings and does not create a safe environment for sharing.
Monitor their behavior; you know your child better than anyone. If they’re acting severely off, shutting down and shutting the world out, this depression may need professional help before substance abuse can also become an issue.
If you have children above the elementary school age, be sure to monitor substances in the house. This also includes prescription medication. Store them in medicine safes as well as safe and hard-to-reach places. In times of grief, it’s easy to turn to substances to help the pain. You may not notice it’s missing until it’s too late.
Simply be there. If they lost someone in their life in any shape or form, simply being there to watch a movie or bring up a great memory regarding the person they lost will go a long way.
There is no step-by-step formula to eliminating grief in your child’s life. In fact, experiencing grief is essential because it makes the wonderful people in our lives so apparent. Just know that if you’re around for advice and support, you’re going a lot further than you think in helping.
And if you’re experiencing grief simultaneously, it can be even harder. Know that some days will be easier than others and there is no time frame for grief. Lean on the ones you love to guide you and help you. You have a lot of people in your life willing to help in these dark times, all you need to do is ask.
Has your family experienced grief? How do you handle shared sadness? Share your best advice below.
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