This past month, there have been a lot of changes in our household. The loss of my brother created quite a shift in the mood and the way that our house has been. When it comes to my children, I have not only been trying to navigate my own emotions, but also help them work through their own as well. I have learned a lot on the topic of teaching your child about grief and about loss.
There is a lot information out there about this topic, and not all of it is going to work for everyone. It is important to remember that, just like anything else in parenting, teaching your child about grief and loss is going to include some of these tips, but it is also going to be what works for YOUR family and YOUR children.
Teaching Your Child About Grief and Loss
I learned something about my children in this past month as I was trying to (and still am) grieve the loss of my brother. It was an extremely devastating and unexpected loss for me and my family, and I wasn’t sure how to act around my children.
They could sense my grief and depression. They knew that something wasn’t right. They wanted to know what was happening.
I was nervous to explain to them what was going on, and at first I made excuses like, “Your uncle J is sick,” or, “The hospital isn’t a place for children. You can see him soon.” I wasn’t sure how to navigate explaining what was really going on to them, much less try to navigate it myself.
Through all of this, I discovered, with unwavering certainty, that children are resilient.
When I sat down and talked to them about what had happened, they responded in a way that surprised even me. My oldest (who is nearly 5), sat and held my hand and told me that it was okay to be sad. She missed him too, and she wanted to be sad with me. But, I should be happy because he was in heaven.
Her sweet, little heart.
In the next weeks, and even now, there are moments where I have break downs. I just have to sit and cry for a moment. When she sees me, she asks, “Are you sad about Uncle J, Mommy?”, and then just sits quietly next to me or takes her siblings into the other room to play for a minute.
She doesn’t see me collapsing all of the time. She sees me going about my day, taking care of her and her three siblings. She understands that I have lost someone extremely important in my life, and that I am really sad about it. However, I am still living my life and participating in our family. She sees that life has to go on, even when we have lost something that will forever be a large part in our lives.
For children, grief and loss are two things that they go through constantly in their younger years. Whether that means losing a pet fish, losing a childhood friend because of a move, or losing their favorite toy, loss and the phases of grief are no stranger to their little hearts.
Just like anything else, children must be taught how to grieve. Telling them “not to cry”, or just to “get over it”, is not teaching them anything about the grieving process, and it is actually leaving them wide open for a disaster when they experience a huge loss that they have to face alone. They won’t be prepared for it.
We must show our children that grief is a part of life. Everyone experiences it, and everyone deals with it in their own way. There is no perfect formula that says how you are supposed to grieve, but there are correct ways to go through the process of getting through it for yourself.
4 Things to Implement When Teaching Your Child About Grief and Loss
- Show them that everyone experiences grief, but life must continue. While we may want to lock ourselves in a room (I know I do sometimes), we can’t. Life doesn’t stop when we experience tragedy and loss, and our children need to see that.
- Show them that emotions are okay. It is okay to be sad and to have bad days. You don’t have to pretend like everything is fine and dandy in front of them. What we do need to show them is that they can cry or be angry about it, as long as they work through those feelings on their own or with someone else. Bottling them up and closing them off won’t get them anywhere. Show your own emotions in a healthy way.
- Talk to them about it. Your children can understand and handle a lot more than you think they can. Open up to them about the loss or whatever the grief is from, and help them to understand it. This will prepare them for handling it on their own if and when the time arises as they get older. On that same note, let them talk about it with you. Don’t shush them if they bring it up, even if it is difficult for you to talk about.
- Do not get mad if they suddenly start regressing as they are navigating grief. Some may wet the bed again after years of being potty trained, some might start randomly throwing fits, some may have trouble sleeping. All of these may be normal things that they are struggling with due to the loss. Understanding that and remaining patient with them is extremely important.
I hope that these tips will help you and your family navigate through the difficult trials and seasons that grief and loss can bring.