Grief is a complex process that we all go through in different ways. For children, it can be particularly difficult to understand the loss of a loved one and deal with the emotional rollercoaster that follows. The goal in many of our child counseling appointments is to help to grieve children cope with loss and learn how to move forward to the next stage in their lives. Utilize the tips and suggestions below to help a grieving child you know.
Differences Between How Adults Grieve And How Children Grieve
Before you learn how to help a grieving child, it’s best to understand the differences between how children grieve and how adults grieve. While both sets of people may go through the same sets of emotions, the way children process their emotions is different than the way adults work through them. Many children experience bursts of grief, followed by normal day-to-day emotions. An adult may spend days mourning the loss of a loved one, while a child spends sporadic hours over the course of a week going through the same emotions. Because of this “bursting” effect, children may seem happy and playful during inappropriate times, like during the dinner of a funeral.
Children may feel a sudden onset of sadness, anger, frustration, or confusion, similar to what adults experience. The difference here is that adults have the ability to internally work through their emotions, or they know how to verbalize what they are feeling. Children do not always know how to express their feelings, especially if they are confused by what is happening in their lives as a whole. This is why special care is needed to properly help to grieving children through the grief process.
Talk To Your Children About Death And Grief
Many of the emotions children go through after loss result from confusion. They do not understand what is happening, why that person is no longer in their lives, and why they feel the way they feel. It’s important to let your kids know that it is okay to talk about death and grief. Encourage them to ask questions, and do your best to explain to them that their loved one is no longer here.
If you are religious, you may discuss your beliefs about the afterlife and tell your child that he or she will be able to see the person again in the future. You must tread lightly with this though, as some children will take the concept of “God’s will” or heaven in a negative way. Children process information in its most literal sense. If they have not been brought up around religion, they may not grasp the concept of life after death. Nevertheless, this could be a great source of healing for children who are familiar with religious doctrine.
Make Your Children Feel Comforted And Loved
Some adults choose to ignore a child’s grieving because they feel that the child must learn to process his or her emotions on an individual level. While there is some form of personal growth in that, leaving a child to grieve on his own may cause him to feel abandoned and even more upset than before. Putting your hand on a child’s back or hugging him during a time of grief is an effective way to show that you are there in support of your kid’s emotions. Be there when your child needs to talk, to cry, or to ask questions. Your love will make this much easier for your child.
Don’t Be Afraid To Grieve In Front Of Your Child
While there is merit in the idea of “being strong for your children,” there is just as much merit in leading by example. Your children need to understand that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, hurt, or confused. If you show your grief in front of a bereaved child, he or she will feel less lonely in this emotional time. With this in mind, you must not grieve too extensively in front of your child, especially if the child is on the recovering end of the grieving process. You may scare or worry about the child, which will derail his or her progress.
Use Art As A Method Of Communication
Your child may not be able to express his or her emotions through words. In some cases, it is better for the child to explain how he or she is feeling through art. You can ask your child to draw a picture of life, death, your family, heaven (for religious households), or anything else that you feel may allow him or her to reach out and communicate. Discuss the drawing with your child afterward, and answer any questions that may come up along the way. Ask your own questions as you talk about the illustration to see why your child feels a certain way. The more you can understand your child, the better you can help him through the healing process.
Seek Out Professional Grief Counseling
Grief counseling is a powerful outlet that can help you and your child get through the grieving process together. You can attend individual sessions for child counseling and adult counseling, as well as family counseling sessions where you and your children talk about your feelings altogether. There will be a therapist or counselor in the room with you who specializes in grief, mourning, and coping with loss. He or she will give you the tools you need to move forward after the loss of a loved one.
You can go through grief counseling long before someone passes away. For instance, if someone in your life was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may experience grief before the person dies. Your children may also go through grief after hearing the news. Work with a counselor to get through this troubled time, and learn the best way to help grieving children cope with loss.