Coping with Loss: How to Help Your Child
Losing a grandparent or other close family friend is often a child’s first true experience with death. Sure, they might have lost a goldfish or two along the way, but facing the loss of a loved one can feel like an impossible task for a child.
While children process loss in different ways depending on age, there are ways to help them work through their grief and process these very confusing and overwhelming feelings.
Be honest but brief:
Parents often wonder what to tell kids following a loss. Do we share the details? Do we talk around it and hope they stop asking questions? How do we proceed?
The truth is that kids know what’s going on around them. They might not be able to connect all of the dots, but they tend be fairly intuitive when it comes to the emotions floating around in the home.
Give a brief but honest description of what happened. Do not get into the details, as too many details can be scary and lead to anxious thoughts. Take some time to prepare a script in your mind and repeat as necessary. Kids will often ask the same questions repeatedly as they process the loss.
Children tend to jump to conclusions when it comes to loss. When you give a generic description that tells them Grandpa was old, so he died your child might very well worry that you are old and you will die next.
Reassure your child that this is something that happened to Grandpa, not you.
Create a send-off:
While funerals and other services can be a beautiful family experience, they are often boring to children. Also? It’s very confusing and unsettling to watch a room full of grown ups cry. While sharing your own sadness can normalize feelings for your kids, you need to be careful not to project your feelings onto your child.
Consider a kid friendly send-off instead. Write notes to your loved one and tie them to a bouquet of balloons in his or her favorite color, and then send them off into the sky (not green-friendly, but very powerful imagery for children). Plant a tree or bush in your yard and place a garden bench nearby as a place to remember your loved one.
Loss is anxiety producing and difficult to process. While some kids might seem to lack any reaction at all, others might express opposite emotions (laughter can be a sign of confused emotions and/or anxiety). And many will show regressed behavior.
Bedwetting, difficulty sleeping through the night, baby talk, hitting and biting, and difficulty eating are all common.
Talk about feelings:
Check in with your child often. Talk about how it feels to lose a loved one. Be honest about how difficult it can be to say goodbye. Allow your child to verbalize her feelings openly and often without judgment.
Feelings faces posters can be very helpful for younger children that struggle to find the words for their feelings.
Memories help us remain focused on the positive, instead of thinking about the end. Share your favorite stories. Tell them over and over again. Look through old photos together and watch any videos you might have. A walk down memory lane can soothe the soul.
Make a scrapbook:
Help your child create her own scrapbook to remember her loved one. Let her choose the pictures and memories that are important to her, and help her write down the stories to describe the picture. It can be tempting to jump in and create the scrapbook for our kids, but when we let them put the memories together, it holds more meaning for them.
Has your child experienced loss? How did you help your child cope?
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