Helping Kids Heal: Grief and Loss
In June of 2016, our beloved dog passed away. Shortly after in September of 2016, we lost my Grandmother. A year later in September of 2017 we lost the children’s paternal great-grandmother. We have been navigating the feelings of grief and loss. Dealing with the pain of a loss as an adult is difficult, but when you add children to the equation, it feels insurmountable. I have been working hard to help my children process their feelings, and I figured this may help others. Before we jump into helping your children deal with grief and loss, please take a moment to pin this post to your parenting board.
Dealing with Grief and Loss as A Parent
It was hard for all of us, it still is. It hasn’t even been a year yet, but I feel like I should be sharing this experience never the less. Parenting children who are dealing with the same loss you are is hard. You are already suffering from your grief, and you have to try to model and be there for your children. How can you show up as a parent? My first suggestion shows up for yourself. Think of the announcement the flight attendants give when you are about to take off, “…In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop off from above. If you are traveling with a child, place your mask on first…” You can not help your child unless you help yourself. Relying on family members, close friends or even a therapist is required. Don’t fear to ask for help, accept the offers of help. No one can do it all alone.
Helping Children Cope With Their Feelings of Grief
First and foremost besides asking for help, and taking it, you shouldn’t hide your own emotions from your children. Not too long ago parents believed children were fragile things, that weren’t as complex and intelligent as they are. Show them how you feel, they won’t understand unless they see it, talk to them about how you are feeling. Speak to them about their emotions. It is essential to show them the grieving process; if you hide your emotions, then they may think it is wrong to have their own feelings. Depending on their age they will understand and process their feelings differently. Never the less, they look to their parent(s) for guidance.
Processing Feelings of Grief
We all process our feelings differently. I cried, wrote in my journal, relied on family and friends, talked about how I felt and about those we lost. My daughter cried a lot when we lost the dog. We stayed up late holding each other until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. She wrote a story (that she will never read again) about what happened that day and how she felt. She wrote letters to him and cards. She talks about him always.
My son didn’t react; he doesn’t even act like we ever had a dog. He wiped it from his memory. But it’s okay when we talk about him; I remind him that Baby is in Heaven and he is watching over us (this is our belief system. you can do something differently).
When my Grandma, their Great Grandma passed we all knew it was going to happen, we didn’t know when. We had thought we were prepared, but as you may know, you are never truly prepared for death. My daughter didn’t react at all to the news. We prayed together, and the kids went to the funeral. My daughter was furious afterward (not directly afterward but in the time after her great grandmother’s death), she would go through irrational tantrums. Be extraordinarily irritable, and I understood that it was her way of coping with her feelings.
My son didn’t react, he knows she’s in heaven, and he refuses to go to church (especially over the bridge). He is three, and I am not sure he completely understands death, although he surprises me when he does talk to me about it. I think it is hard for him to process, so he doesn’t deal with it at all.
Keeping the lines of Communication Open
I try to keep the lines of communication open with my children. I let them talk about those we have lost. I allowed them to feel what they are feeling and to share it with me however they feel comfortable. It is hard especially on special days, hence why we ditched the majority of holiday posts this year. For my son, since he is so young I tried to get him to explain to the best of his ability how he felt/ feels about all of this, sometimes he doesn’t know if he is angry or sad so describing how he feels (my heart is racing, and I am thinking about XYZ), instead of acting it out, helps me to explain the emotions to him.
Children thrive on routine, so trying as best as you can to keep up with routine within reason is essential. After some initial grief, try to get your kids back on track is important as much to you as it is to them. Making sure you all get enough sleep and are eating healthy will help you cope with dealing with feelings of depression. It is also a distraction, as are your kids. One thing that truly helped me and got me up in the morning was the simple fact that I had two little ones who needed me to continue to take care of them.
Overall be there for your child, let them know it is okay to feel whatever they are feeling. Give them a way to express their emotions, whether it is by writing, art, singing, praying, or what have you. Be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on if need be. You are in this together.