When a loved one dies, it is natural for children to grieve. Grieving is a process of accepting the loss and adjusting to life without the person who died. The grieving process can be difficult and painful, but it is also an important part of healing. There is no one “right” way to grieve, and children may express their grief in different ways. Some common signs of grief in children include:
- Withdrawing from friends or activities they enjoy.
- Acting out in school or at home.
- Having trouble sleeping or eating.
- Experiencing physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches.
If your child is showing any of these signs following the loss of a loved one, or if you simply want to be prepared in case your child were to lose someone close to them, here’s five strategies for parents to help their children with grief:
- Acknowledge their feelings: Let children know that it is okay to feel sad, angry, or afraid after someone dies. Encourage them to express their emotions in whatever way feels comfortable for them. Many times, children feel like they need to be strong for the adults in their life who are grieving. This can lead to bottled up emotions which can have negative consequences later in life. If a child is not given the opportunity to grieve and express their feelings, they may become withdrawn or exhibit behavioral problems. In order to help a child through grief, it is important to promote communication and listen without judgement. Let them know that it’s okay to cry or be angry.
- Keep routines as normal as possible: Maintaining regular routines can help bring a sense of stability and comfort during a time of upheaval. Grief can be all-consuming and make it difficult to focus on anything else. However, maintaining a routine can help keep your mind from dwelling on negative thoughts. This is not to say that you should bottle up your emotions or try to act like everything is fine when it’s not. It’s okay (and necessary) to grieve in your own way and at your own pace. But incorporating some sort of structure into your days can make the grieving process feel more natural.
- Talk about the person who died: Share fond memories and stories about the person with your child. This will help keep their memory alive while also providing an opportunity for grieving. Talking about the person can help you to process your feelings and make sense of what has happened. However, it's important to be aware that talking about the deceased can also have a negative impact on grief. If you find yourself or your child obsessively talking about the person or fixating on their death, it may be harmful to mental health. It's important to strike a balance between talking about the person and moving on with life.
- Help them say goodbye: Children may benefit from participating in rituals such as funerals or memorial services. This can be a helpful way for them to say goodbye and begin the healing process. A funeral can help your child to say goodbye to their loved one in a healthy way. It can also provide closure and allow your child to begin the grieving process. Funerals give children the opportunity to express their feelings and ask questions about death. They can also help children to understand that death is final and that they will not see their loved one again. This can be a difficult concept for children to grasp, but it is an important part of the grieving process. Attending a funeral can also help your child to develop coping skills that will be useful later in life. Seeing how adults deal with grief can show them how to cope with their own losses in the future. Being involved in the planning of a funeral can also give children a sense of control during a time when everything else might feel out of their hands. Finally, funerals provide opportunities for family and friends to come together and support one another during this difficult time. Children often take cues from the adults around them, so being surrounded by people who are openly expressing their grief can be very helpful for them.
- Seek professional help if needed: Some children may need professional support to cope with grief; consider seeking counseling or therapy if necessary.Professional help can be extremely beneficial for children who are grieving. Counselors can provide support and guidance to help children understand their feelings and learn how to cope with them in healthy ways. They can also offer practical advice on dealing with specific situations related to grief, such as attending a funeral or dealing with changes at home. In addition to counseling, therapy can be helpful for children who are struggling with grief. Some common approaches used in therapy include play therapy, art therapy, and music therapy. These modalities can help children express their emotions in a safe and supportive environment. Group therapy is another option that can be beneficial for grieving children. This type of therapy provides an opportunity for kids to share their experiences with others who are going through similar things. It can also be helpful for kids to see that they are not alone in their struggles.
Grief isn’t simple for anyone. When it comes to children grieving, it’s extremely important that they are provided with the right support and guidance. Most important of all, is that you as the parent remain honest and committed to being there for your child.