15 Oct When your child has lost a loved one Tips for parents and carers to help a grieving child
Losing a loved one is hard to navigate as an adult, and it’s even harder for a child. It’s natural to want to protect them from pain, but unfortunately that’s just not realistic when someone your child loves die. But we can teach them positive coping mechanisms that can help a grieving child in the short and long term.
Here’s how to help your child has lost a loved one.
How to help a grieving child
Let them grieve.
The first, and most important thing we can do to help a grieving child is to allow them to grieve. It’s harder than it sounds – as parents and carers we want to take away their sadness however we can. Ultimately, this will only prolong the grieving process and, more importantly, it can threaten the further development of a child’s personality. But, if your child is allowed to grieve fully and naturally, there is little risk to their development.
It’s hard to watch a child grieve, but it’s also important that they’re given space and time to do so.
Talk openly about death and loss.
Talking with your child is a vital part of the grieving process. You should talk about the person who died as often as they want to. Use their name, and share memories of their life. Some great ways to inspire conversations is to make photo albums together or even a memory box.
Be sure when you’re talking that you say the words ‘died’, ‘dead’ and ‘death’. Using euphemisms can be confusing and frightening for kids. If your child is too young to understand the concept of death, focus on concepts they can understand, but that reflect their new reality.
You can say that their loved one won’t be around anymore or that they have had to go away. Acknowledge that this is sad, but also a normal part of life. Be ready to answer their questions as honestly as you can, in a way and with words that they can understand.
When you’re talking together watch and listen to your child for cues about how they are feeling and how they are handling information. Sometimes things might get to be a little too much for them or be beyond what they can understand. Try to give out information only to the extent they are ready to hear it, but don’t hold back anything that they are ready to hear.
Accept that your grieving child’s behaviour may change.
Everyone grieves differently and having a change in behaviour is very normal. You might find that your child starts acting out their feelings rather than talking to you. Or that their eating or sleeping patterns change. Some may revert to behaviours they had previously grown out of – such as wetting the bed.
In teens and older kids, grief might manifest itself in a decreased interest in school or in higher rates of delinquency. Social activities may take on more or less importance.
With younger kids it’s also not unusual for them to drop in and out of grieving; switching from crying to laughing in a short amount of time.
But it’s important to keep in mind that behavioural changes in a grieving child are normal.
Don’t hide your own sadness.
If you are also grieving, don’t hide these feelings from your child. It will confuse them and they may start to worry about you as well.
Let them know that you are sad too. That it is a normal response when someone that you love dies. But also let them know that you will be OK and that things will get better.
When should you seek help for your grieving child?
Sometimes children experience difficulties grieving. This might be because they grieve for a very long time, or because they show other difficulties, such as trouble talking, social withdrawal, aggression, self-destructive behaviour or guilt.
In those cases, it would be good to speak with a therapist or counsellor who can give your child the opportunity to talk about very difficult things in a neutral environment.
It’s important to remember that grieving is natural for adults and kids alike. But the more we can help our kids throughout the process, the easier it will be for them to manage the experience in a healthy way.
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
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