Grief is a difficult emotion for adults. It can be even trickier for children. How do you help your children cope with grief when your family experiences loss?
Each child experiences grief differently. Children’s reactions to loss are based on their age, their relationship with the loved one or even their understanding of death. Know that just because your child does not seem outwardly upset doesn’t mean they’re not grieving. It’s normal for children to experience a wide array of emotions including anger, confusion and sadness.
Be Clear and Honest
Kids are very literal, so when talking to them about death, it’s important to be direct. Try to answer their questions honestly using the appropriate amount of detail for their age. You want to make sure you’re compassionate while ensuring they understand, to the best of their ability, what this loss means for you and your family.
What to Expect
When a child experiences the loss of a loved one there are a lot of unknowns. Explain what will occur over the next few weeks. If there are services involved, talk to them about the setting, who will attend and what will likely happen. You may have to explain the idea of burial or cremation in a way that your child can grasp. Most kids have not had a lot of experience with death or funerals, so the more you can do to prepare them, the better.
Talk About Feelings
Whether your children are emotional or not, it’s important to talk about all the feelings that go along with grief. Let your children know that they’re not alone in their grief. You can talk to them about your own feeling of loss for your loved one. But be careful not to dwell too much. Talk about their feelings; let them know they’re normal. Then, comfort them and try to divert their attention by playing, taking a walk or going somewhere together.
Grief is a long process. Some children will not be ready to talk about their feelings right away. Others will take time to process what their loss means to them. Offer comfort and compassion and let them know you’re there to talk about their feelings or answer questions whenever they’re ready.
While grief is universal, it’s always a difficult process. Talking openly with your children about their pain and emotions will help them work through their feelings. Preparing them for what’s ahead and remaining a constant source of emotional support will help them navigate the rough waters of grief.