Let’s face it, grief is a tough emotion to wrestle with! In our August 9th blog post, we learned that it is a complicated process that we all tend to experience differently. As difficult as it is to comprehend as adults, grief is particularly difficult for children. While we cannot spare them the experience of grief, we can assure that their grief is acknowledged and supported. Here are some quick tips to helping children through their grief.
1) VALIDATE IT
The first step to helping children with their grief is often the hardest for us – validating it. We don’t like to see our children upset and hurting, so we need to remember that this is a valid part of the process. When we see them upset during the grieving process, let them know that the emotion they are feeling is understandable and that they are allowed to feel it. Give them the space and time that they need to express their emotions. Don’t rush them to “cheer up” or “get over it”; just let them process the grief in their own time.
2) BE HONEST ABOUT IT
Often out of our own discomfort around the topic of death, we use euphemisms about death such as “sleeping” and “went/ran away.” This can be confusing for children, particularly younger ones who don’t understand figurative language. Speak honestly with your children about death and grieving. It is important to be age appropriate about the conversation. But in general, children are more resilient around this topic than we expect them to be. It is important to remember not to overshare more information than they can handle, but be willing to answer their questions about it.
3) ALLOW CHILDREN TO EXPERIENCE GRIEF IN THEIR OWN WAY
Children’s reactions and thus emotions during the grieving process may change suddenly. It is common for them to be crying one moment and playing with a smile on their face the next. It is also common for them to be triggered at unexpected times and start crying when you least expect it. As stated earlier, grief is a complicated process. Children will need the space to experience it in their own way. This can be particularly tricky in a family with multiple children. Remember to validate each child’s expression of grief as valid.
4) BE OPEN (BUT REGULATED) WITH YOUR OWN GRIEF
Chances are, if your child is experiencing grief, you are going through your own grief process as well. Remember that it is okay to show your own grieving. This can help demonstrate that grieving is a natural response to loss. While it can be difficult for your children to see you upset as well, it allows the opportunity to talk to them about the nature of emotions and how each one is needed. Remember to practice regulation with your grief, however. Do not rely on your children to carry your own emotional weight. Utilize your own support system to help you with this balance.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should be enough to start the groundwork of helping your child through their grief. If you have further questions or are concerned about your child’s grief process, feel free to reach out to us here at Heartland Therapy Connection. We would love to meet with you and/or your child to help navigate the difficult emotion of grief. Let us know how we can help!