My family held a funeral for my grandfather earlier this week. Our hearts ache.
Like you, I am no stranger to grief. But this time the grieving process is different…more complicated. I have young children who are grieving as well. So, in the midst of my personal grieving, I must help my children grieve too.
I wanted to make sure I was equipped to help my girlies work through their grief so I asked a few friends and clergy members for their advice on how to help children grieve. I am not an expert on grief. I’m merely sharing what I’ve learned with the hope that it will aid other families in helping children grieve the loss of a loved one.
Let them know that death is a part of life. It’s important for children to understand that our earthly bodies will not last forever. The budding, blooming, wilting, and death of a flower provide an excellent child appropriate example of the phases of life. We explain that though death is a part of life, those who trust Christ as Savior will go to Heaven and live a joyous new life with Him.
Listen. Be sure to listen carefully when your child wants to talk about the loss and don’t expect them to talk about the loss all at once. Your child may wish to talk about the loss several months later and seemingly out of the blue. A year after my grandmother passed, Sugar Plum would still sometimes burst into tears and want to talk about how much she missed Gram.
Answer questions. When my grandmother died a few years ago, the girlies were younger, so they didn’t have very many questions. Now that they are older, they have more questions about death. Give an honest, but age appropriate answer. If you don’t know something, say so. Don’t fabricate a response just to provide a quick answer. Also, pray for God to give you wisdom as you respond to the children’s inquiries.
Don’t hide your grief. If your grief is going to cause you to lose control, you will not want your child to see such an emotional outburst as it may frighten them. However, if a photo of your deceased loved one or a fond memory triggers causes you to cry, don’t hide those feelings. Be honest with your children. Tell them you feel sad. It is important for children need to understand that all people, young and old, experience grief.
Let them know that people grieve in different ways. Talk to your children about the ways people grieve. One person may cry a lot, while another person grows quiet. Some people express their grief through writing or art. Not everyone will express grief in the same manner, but children need to understand healthy ways to express grief.
Be patient. If your child is reluctant to talk about the loss, don’t force a conversation. The grieving process can be long. Give your child time to process what has happened and let him know you’re available to talk. If you notice he is struggling and it’s been a while since you’ve talked about the loss, gently remind your child that you are ready to listen should he choose to talk.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Sometimes a parent is not equipped to a child grieve because she is consumed by her own grief or because the child isn’t coping well. If you are overwhelmed or concerned, seek the assistance of a trained Christian counselor to help your child work through their grief. It may even be a good idea to go to counseling as a family.
Grief is a sad, but common experience. By using practical steps and exercising sensitivity, parents can help guide their children through the grieving process. Do you have tips for helping children handle grief? If so, feel free to let us know with a comment.
© 2014, Andrea Thorpe. All rights reserved.