How do I help my kids with the loss of a loved one?
July 12th, 2020
First it is important to do our own emotional homework. If we are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with certain feelings we may block children from expressing theirs, or we may over-identifying with their feelings causing a loss of appropriate boundaries. To be a true refuge for others we need to be familiar with the many faces of loss.
Remember that children grieve differently than adults. Here are some guidelines to consider:
· Speak simply, honestly and caringly. “I heard some sad news from your teacher that Judy died today.” Speak directly, use a normal voice, avoid euphemisms. Communicate the truth in a timely way so that child does not hear about the death from someone else who may not delivery the news skillfully.
· Listen and reassure. Allow a pause for the child’s reaction. Children respond differently to loss, some cry, others ask questions, others become angry or afraid. Be present, listen for feelings, offer hugs when it seems appropriate.
· Help name feelings: Help a child to know they may have strange or different feelings for a while, Share your feelings to help the child identify and express their emotions. “I’m really feeling sad that your friend Judy died. I liked her a lot and will miss seeing her.” Are you sad?
· What’s next: A loss can disrupt every day schedules. Help your child to know what is going to happen next. Explain any changes in routine, upcoming events, provide reassurance and security. Explaining that you or a caring adult will be with them will help address worries and fears.
· Provide safety: Children may need extra attention. They need normalcy, to play, to have special time with you and feel the healing power of human kindness. Children may forget or have a hard time remembering the deceased person. Share happy memories and photos. The cliché that time heals is a half-truth. Time and loving attention heal.
Megan DevineApril 8th, 2021
The temptation is to be like, they shouldn't see how upset I am. This is tricky territory here because on one hand, we want to model for the ones we love that it is okay to feel whatever you feel; it is okay to be sad. It's okay to be angry. It's okay to feel numbed out and not be sure about anything. These are all things that it's beautifully healthy to role model and discuss. The other end of the spectrum though is we don't want to be going to the four year old and sobbing on their shoulder because that's not developmentally appropriate. That's not an appropriate boundary, relationally speaking.
In between those two extremes of we don't talk about it or we dump our entire emotional contents on the young person, there's a big wide middle ground. For example, saying, “When I feel really sad about missing Daddy, here's what I usually do,” or “You might see that I get kind of quiet sometimes or that I might excuse myself and go cry for a little bit. What do you do when you're sad?” What a beautiful high skilled conversation that is. You can apply that at any developmental stage for kids. It works for little peanuts, it works for older kids. You obviously change your change your language structure depending on age.
Really what’s needed is to just normalize anything you experience when somebody you love dies, or when there has been a devastating injury or a chronic illness that really changes the way you live in your body or live in the world, It’s so important to invite conversations about what this is like for you or for them. Those are beautiful ways to proceed. And, we come back to what happens when we remove the culturally embedded idea that your job anytime something is difficult is to take the difficulty away from children. You're really not doing anybody any favors by maintaining that old dinosaur. It just doesn't work.”