Helping Your Child Adjust to a Heartbreaking Loss – Dos and Don’ts
Experiencing any type of loss is difficult.
Whether a family member, a close friend, or even a pet has passed away, it’s never easy to get through that kind of grief.
What we don’t often realize is that it can be even harder for children.
When children go through a heartbreaking loss, they don’t always process it the same way adults do. They may have a harder time fully understanding or accepting what happened.
It’s impossible to protect your kids from experiencing loss in their life. But, teaching them how to deal with those losses and adjust in a healthy way makes a big difference.
Do Let Them Ask Questions
Children process loss differently at different ages. It’s important to be appropriate in your explanations depending on how old they are. Unfortunately, that isn’t always easy to do.
One of the best ways of getting your child to understand is to explain things at a basic level. Then, let them ask questions.
They may ask things you hadn’t thought of yourself. Or they may ask questions that are difficult for you to answer. But, if you’re able to answer them in a developmentally-appropriate way, it can make it easier for your child to fully understand what’s going on.
Do Encourage Expression of Emotions
One of the best things you can do during a situation that involves a loss is to encourage your child to express their emotions.
Depending on their age, some children can’t easily express themselves through words. So, it’s a good idea to offer them different outlets to get their feelings out. Having them draw a picture of their feelings, for example, is a great alternative.
Don’t Gloss Over Words
We often try to spare the emotions of children when it comes to loss and death by using euphemisms or alternative words. When a pet dies, the old stereotype is to tell a child they went to “live on a farm.” If a relative dies, we might say they “went to sleep.”
While the intentions of saying these things are good, they can actually be somewhat harmful to your child. It’s always a better idea to be direct when it comes to how you explain the loss to your child.
Be age appropriate, of course, but don’t gloss over death and the conversation that might have to come along with it. Being able to share that directly with your child can actually make it easier for them to understand and cope in the long run.
Don’t Forget to Deal with Your Own Grief
Your child will look to you during times of loss. They may even start to mimic the way you grieve and handle things. That’s simply because they feel it’s the right or appropriate thing to do.
When children see their parent overwhelmed with emotion, they may not know how to respond. While they may join in your sadness, they also may shut down or ask if you are ever going to stop crying. This does not mean they are cold or do not have empathy, they just process grief and emotion differently than adults.
With that in mind, it’s important to take time for yourself. Don’t ignore your own grieving process just because you have to take care of others. When you’re able to grieve a heartbreaking loss in a healthy way, it’s easier for your child to do the same thing.
Clearly, experiencing a loss is devastating. But it’s even worse for a child who can’t fully understand or process what’s happening.
As adults, we can make the process easier for them to grasp. When we’re able to do that, we’re setting a foundation for how they grieve and process death and loss for the rest of their lives.
If your child is struggling with a recent loss or you’re still unsure on what you should or shouldn’t do for them, feel free to contact me. Together, we can work through the process of grief in healthy ways. In doing so, you can better understand what your child might need to be able to work through this difficult process.