Losing someone important to us is a universal experience that is always difficult to deal with. We may feel anger, grief, loneliness, or confusion, and we all handle these difficult emotions in our own personal way.
For a child, however, these feelings can be new, scary, and often overwhelming.
As much as you want to shield your children from any pain, allowing them to feel these big emotions and express them in healthy ways can help them gain maturity and learn about themselves and their world.
As parents, it is vital that when your child is facing these types of situations and emotions you are there to guide them through and model ways that they can cope with their loss and integrate it into their life. Allow your children to process at their own pace, and let them know you are there to talk to them if they want to. Allow them to ask questions. You don’t have to have all of the answers, but by simply being present and engaging in difficult discussions you can teach important lessons about your family’s spiritual beliefs, about the life cycle, and the importance of valuing loved ones while they are here.
It may be tempting to tell a small white lie to ease a sad situation, such as “Your cat went away to be with her family,” but remember that children are often literal and take things personally, so might internalize a well-intentioned explanation and believe the loss to be their fault. It is better to keep explanations clear, honest, and easily understandable. By allowing your child to experience the full range of emotions, including grief and sadness, you are helping their emotional development and preparing them to be able to handle the inevitable losses that occur in all of our lives.
You may want to engage in a memorial or remembrance activity, to honor your child’s loss and help them process it. Some options could include:
- Drawing a portrait of the loved one
- Telling favorite stories and remembrances about the loved one as a family
- Creating a scrapbook or photo album
Loss and the resulting grief are a normal part of life. However, if your child seems to be struggling to recover or is showing behavioral changes or persistent sadness that last more than several months, you may want to seek the help of a qualified therapist.
Molly Halbrooks, LAMFT
mstenner @ growcounseling.com