November 16, 2017 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, which brings attention to children who have experienced the death of a loved one and opens the conversation about ways to provide support. Parents and caregivers do their best to support their children every day. This post will provide some strategies for supporting children in grief.
After the death of a loved one, it is not uncommon for parents and caregivers to question if they have the knowledge or skill sets needed to help their family get through this difficult time.
Model effective grief: Many times, a parent’s first instinct is to set aside their own grief needs to focus on what their child may need. However, one of the best ways for you to support your child is to be an example of healthy grieving. Reach out for your own support to ensure that your needs are taken care of. Be kind to yourself as you navigate these transitions.
Invite open communication: An important component in supporting your child is establishing open communication. You could say, “Sally, you can always talk to me about Daddy. Sometimes I feel sad when I talk about Daddy, but it’s OK to feel sad. I also feel happy talking and thinking about Daddy and all the fun times we had together. If you ever want to talk about Daddy, I am always here to listen.”
Encourage safe expression: Help your child identify other safe people they can talk to. Many parents want their child to speak with them and it can feel disappointing if they choose to talk with someone else. Try not to take this personally, or to see it as a reflection of your parenting or your relationship with your child. More than likely, your child is choosing not to talk with you to protect your feelings. Just because they may not be talking with you right now does not mean they never will. If your child is sharing with other people, it is most important to remember that they have found a way to express themselves.
Speak your child’s language: Many parents may also look for children to speak with words. Children who did not talk a lot before the death may not do so now. Children often communicate what they may be feeling with behaviors. Bereavement counselors or other professionals may be able to assist you in interpreting your child’s behaviors and offer suggestions on how to help manage behaviors that you may be concerned about. If your child or teen was exhibiting problematic behaviors prior to the death, seek guidance from professionals who are familiar with your unique situation to ensure your child’s safety.
Plan ahead: Holidays and special dates, like birthdays and anniversaries can be difficult. It may be helpful to plan in advance. There is no right or wrong way to approach these firsts. Different family members might have different needs or ideas about what to do. Know that it is normal to disagree.
Remember that everyone grieves differently: In families, there may be family members who want to talk about their feelings, members who have increased irritability, members who are more tearful, or members who have anger outbursts. Your family might have a combination of these examples and more. Accept your family members for where they are in their grief without trying to compare or judge. You are all on this journey together.
--by Laurel H., grief counselor