Helping Children Grieve

Grieving is a very personal experience and many of us will find that we deal with grief in very different ways. This of course,  is the same for children.

 If a family has suffered the loss of a family member, friend or even a beloved pet, it is important that parents allow their children to grieve in their individual ways. Some will be overt in their grief, whilst others may appear as if nothing has changed. What is most important for any person who is grieving, is to have that grief acknowledged, and for them to be provided with a safe environment to deal with their emotions in a way that best meets their needs.

In the past, children were often shielded from being involved in a families grieving process, and this I believe must only have left them feeling fearful, confused and isolated.  Children instead should be allowed to see your grief and display their own, to hear your cries and cry their own tears.  They must also however, be witness to your ability to continue to function and take part in daily activities, so that they too can know that is ok for them to return to their games and play. They need to see that whilst you are devastated by an event, you still have the ability to pick yourself up. They need to see that there is no stop/start to grieving. There will be times when you are down, there will be times when you are ok, and that these emotions will continue to fluctuate for some time. 

When my daughter died I was at first concerned about the effect on my 7 year old at the time, as he would often ask me to lie with him at night. His questions and attempts to try and make sense of the seemingly unexplainable would often leave us both crying ourselves to sleep. Was I putting too much of my own pain on to his tiny little shoulders? Should I have tried to shield him more from the enormity of this whole experience? On reflection I began to realise that this was something that he needed to do as well. I am now confident in the knowledge that he only took on what he could handle. It was also important for us to be able to get up the next morning and talk about normal stuff, have a laugh, go about our daily tasks, and thus remind ourselves that despite finding ourselves in a place of desperate sadness, we also knew that those times wouldn’t last forever. They will return, and we will find ourselves there again, but they will also be shelved, hidden somewhere far enough away to enable us to go on and enjoy our everyday living. 

 So when your children are mourning the loss of someone or something, remember that acknowledging that loss is the key for them and be guided by them as to how much they are able to take on. Age, development and personality all play a large part in how children respond to grief. Some may mourn fiercely and loudly and be ruled by these emotions of grief. Others may take much longer to process the emotions and you may find they come out later, at often unexpected times and in unexpected ways.  Provide open communication and a safe environment, so that in whatever time frame they have and whatever process they endure, they will know that there will always be an opportunity for them to be heard and for their grief to be acknowledged.

 

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break. ” ~ William Shakespeare 

Stay tuned for later posts when I will look at some of the different ways children respond to grief, and how you as a parent can help support them through their journey.

 

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This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Thank you, my much loved Nanna has taken a turn in the last couple of days and I am worried about how my kids will deal with it and how much to share and what to do.
    Very informative
    Beck

    1. Best wishes to you Beck. I too lost my beloved nanna last year so I know it is always going to be a difficult time, but a time I know you will survive and do the best job you can in helping your own kids.

  2. Grief is such a personal journey, isn’t it? When I lost my 22yo nephew to suicide almost 2 years ago I felt like I was in a pit of despair for many of those early weeks. My then 9yo son reacted with anger when we told him that his cousin had taken his own life “What a stupid thing to do” he said. It was such a difficult time for him as he struggled with the desire to keep his feelings private but also the need to tell others what had happened. As time passes grief becomes more bearable and now he can talk about his cousin and remember some good times he had with him. We make a special effort of talking about him in a way that promotes positive memories of him. I regret that my son was unable to attend my nephew’s funeral as he was in bed with flu. It was a beautiful expression of his life and included a lego structure of his head! We made sure to bring a photo of that home for my son and to allow both our boys to visit my nephew’s friend who had made it so that they could spend time playing lego with him.

    1. Thanks Heather, whilst there are some similiar patterns kids may follow in response to grief, you are right, it is very personal and sometimes we are not prepared for how people will reactSounds like you have done a wonderful job in helping your children through this process, especially seeing as they are now able to look back and remember the good times.

  3. Martine, thanks for sharing this and inviting us into such a personal journey. My son is 5 months old and I can hardly stand the thought of the agony you must have endured, and still feel at the loss of your daughter. I am not sure if it’s ok to say that or not, but thank you for sharing. x

    1. Thanks Louisa, and you are right there have certainly been days when I too have not been able to stand the thought or the agony, but thankfully those days are getting fewer and I am also thankful for the rest of my family for helping to give me the reason and the motivation to have a great life. x

  4. Well written article Martine.
    I am sorry for the loss of daughter , I cannot imagine the agony of losing a child you have loved and known for 4.5 months.
    My own daughter was stillborn when I was 6 months pregnant. My eldest son (now almost 18) was 11 yrs at the time and I had no idea how nor ability to help him grieve at the time ?.
    When he was 16 he went and got a tattoo of her name – without our knowledge or permission on his stomach …I still don’t understand.
    I didn’t find out till 6 months later, my husband saw a few months before me but decided to say nothing.
    It is now a very visible and permanent reminder to me whenever he goes shirtless of his grief.

    1. Thanks Trish, sorry too for your loss. Your sons tatoo may be a permanent reminder of his grief but it can also be seen as the only way he knows how to honour and remember his sister. He may have been internalising a lot of his grief for a long time, and for him it was a way for him to let some of that out.

    2. Thanks for writing such an easy-to-undrseantd article on this topic.

  5. Hey Teenie,
    Your article was so beautiful and I am just crying my eyes out right now at the thought of beautiful deep sensitive Charlie crying his eyes out on your shoulder.. You guys have come through so much and I know Ava is still with you all every step of the way and guiding your journey.. When mum got sick, it was never really explained to us and we were never able to grieve or properly or understand or talk about the loss of our mum who we knew had gone and there was another different mum in her place.. It affected me very deeply for many years and when Ava passed i remembered thinking how special it was for your boys to be able to share and express their loss with their mummy and daddy… You have done an amazing job and let your instincts guide you every step of the way.. and as you say there is no stop start to grief just a little boat on the ocean, sometimes its calm and sometimes its so fierce it takes you under but as long as you keep coming back to the surface and sailing along thats the important thing,the journey of grief and that the waves get smaller and come less frequently as time goes on… Love you x

    1. Thanks Jacqui…and I really like the little boat in the ocean analogy. x

  6. Just explain to your children what is going on and make him/her understand that nothing in this world could stay. Its not easy to grieve and accept that you lose someone who is very especial. But, learning to accept the reality is a good way.

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