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Teaching Your Child About Grief and Loss

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. Thoughts on teaching your child and grief and loss, and tips for navigating through the season of grief as a parent with young 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

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. joanna at motherhood and merlot

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joanna at motherhood and merlot

 

 

30 comments

  1. I’m so sorry about the loss of your brother. These really are some great ways to deal with grief with little ones. It’s such a difficult subject for even adults to handle, it’s good to have a plan when it comes to our kids. Thanks for sharing this one. xo

  2. This post was written excellently. I agree with all your points. As a school counselor, this is something that I tell my middle school parents to help their children. Excellent post.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. Those are good tips for helping children to process grief. It is important for kids to see adults experiencing the sadness of grief so they can feel free to express their own feelings of loss.
    Theresa recently posted…Free Printable Valentines for Microwave PopcornMy Profile

  4. What a challenging time. I’m so sorry for your loss. I think you are handling the circumstance with your children so well. Prayers are with you.
    Dawn Darnell recently posted…Galentine’s Brunch with BarbazzarMy Profile

  5. This is a subject that has needed to be addressed for a long time. Each child is different I understand but they know and see more than what we think. Just makes them worry and wonder.
    candy recently posted…Kiwi DehydratedMy Profile

  6. I am so sorry for your loss and wish you comfort in your time of grief. You have done such a wonderful job of helping your children walk through their grief. Children are resilient, but only when they have the proper support.

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss, Mama. But, as someone who watched her mother go through a terrible loss at about your eldests age, this is totally spot on. xo
    Rachel recently posted…Soothing A Colicky Baby //My Profile

  8. So sorry for your hurting and loss. I think it’s wonderful that you are being so careful to approach this with your children. You are doing great. Prayers your way.

  9. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. The approach you took with your children is very similar to the one we took with my oldest when my second son died shortly after birth. He was about 4 /12 at he time, and although he was sad, he now has a very good grasp on grief and emotions, and a strong sense of empathy, which I suppose is a small silver lining in it all. Keeping your family in my thoughts.
    Kate A recently posted…Keep Calm! 5 Ideas for Mindfulness for the Entire FamilyMy Profile

  10. These are really great tips and such an important post. My boys are all at the age where they understand mostly what death means, and it is so hard to know how to handle it. This gives me some great guidelines and ideas. I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother.

  11. I have a little one, and I will definitely be bookmarking this when we cross that bridge. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I’m so sorry about your brother. It’s so hard to try and explain things to children, especially when you yourself are still trying to navigate through your own feelings. I think it’s great that you acknowledge that everyone deals with grief and loss differently but that there is always something you can do to help them work through it at their own pace.

  13. I’m so sorry about the loss of your brother! My son was four when his cousin passed away from cancer. His cousin, my nephew, was only 3. Helping him understand such a loss was one of the most difficult things we’ve ever had to do. But you’re right, children are resilient and they can actually help us work through our own grief (unknowingly, I think, with their love and innocence). Wishing you and your family peace in the months ahead! Thanks for sharing these tips for other families who might need them.

  14. My brother was in middle school when his girlfriend passed of a brain tumor. I’m so sorry your family is grieving. This is so difficult for everyone. It’s so important to address it though, and talk about the loss and the person who is gone. Sending love your families way.

    https://binkiesandbaubles.com/2017/02/14/17-years-of-love/

  15. I’m so sorry for you loss! I cant really imagine! Thank for this!! I’ve had a little girlie from my daycare pass away and it has been horrible! And trying to hold it in from of my daughter and not show any of the other kids our pain is hard almost everyday!

  16. This was very well written and has excellent points. Grief and loss are very difficult to explain to adults let alone children. I am so sorry for your loss and grateful for your tips.

  17. Very nice tips, its already difficult dealing with a loss. Now imagine a child, very helpful topic to cover, Thanks!

  18. These are amazing tips, Joanna. I’m so sorry for your loss and so sorry you had to experience this and your kids had to experience this.

  19. I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. I think you are so right in being open with your children about grief and loss, as much as it is difficult, it is so important to understand that it is part of life and that there are ways of managing, even if that means being upset, mad sad or angry about it some times. I’ll be thinking about you and your family.

  20. These are great tips! My son is still very young but when my dad passed away I saw how my stephsister & brother were struggling with this with their children. Thanks for sharing and I am reallt sorry for your loss.

  21. I am SO sorry about your loss. So hard and devastating! These tips are so helpful! When we are still trying to cope and navigate through our own feelings/thoughts, it can be hard to also know what is right for our kiddos! Thank you for sharing!

  22. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. It is a life lesson that we need to teach our kids and as hard as it is, there’s no better person than a loving parent to teach it. ❤

  23. I’m sorry your family is going through this. I was worried about how your family was doing, and it’s good to hear you not only have a good plan to cope with it, but are also helping others in similar situations.
    Theresa recently posted…Simple DIY St. Patrick’s Day Candle HolderMy Profile

  24. I’m so sorry for your loss. We experienced this last year with a family member our kids knew and loved. It was super hard in a way I wasn’t totally prepared for. This is such a great resource for parents having to walk through grief with their little ones.

    Marquita l http://www.lovethelaniers.com

  25. I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s even more challenging when trying to navigate the complex emotions and experiences with a little one. There is an amazing picture book called The Yellow Balloon that addresses dealing with loss, though it’s intended for kids it’s also quite impactful for grown ups as well.

  26. I am so very sorry for your loss. Thank you for writing this post – so thoughtful and well written. I dread the day I have to teach my son about loss.

  27. Ughhh I’m so sorry for your loss! I lost my brother 5 years ago. I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter so I didn’t have to explain any of it to her. I’m dreading the day I’m
    Going to have to though when someone passes since she’s old enough to know what’s going on :-/

  28. Again, so sorry for your loss. Your tips are sure to help someone else who hasn’t had an experience of loss. It’s such an individual thing for how everyone, including the kids handle it. Especially depending on the ages they are. But, surrounded by loving survivors, answering questions the best we can and with support/understanding we keep moving forward. I hope that each day brings you more healing and host fast to your good memories. xo
    Theresa (@DearCreatives) recently posted…Huevos Rancheros Egg Sandwich Recipe And How To Enter 2017 Eggland’s Best Foodtography ContestMy Profile

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