Supporting Your Child Through Grief
Recently Scott Berinato published an article describing the communal grief that many of us are experiencing at this time (That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.). Grief about lost opportunities, canceled events, lost jobs, lost routines, separation from friends and family members, and for some of us, grief as family members die and we are not able to observe our regular rituals to mark their passing.
The task of dealing with grief is especially challenging for parents because we must respond to our children’s grief as well as our own. When our child feels strong emotions, we experience those emotions along with them, and that can be very painful. Sometimes we respond by encouraging our children not to express sad or angry emotions because it can help us feel better. But our children deserve to learn from us how to handle sadness in healthy ways and they can only learn that through experiencing sadness with us.
Here are some strategies for supporting your child through their sad feelings:
- Often children act younger when they are experiencing strong emotions. Your child may need help with tasks that they could do by themselves two months ago. It’s OK to let them feel and act younger now. Their natural drive toward independence will take over as their emotions subside.
- Reflect back what your child is expressing to you. Sometimes children can use words to describe their feelings but more often they express their feelings through actions. You can help them build their emotional vocabulary by saying things like:
- I wonder if you’re feeling sad right now.
- You tore up your drawing. Do you feel frustrated about how it looks?
- A lot of people feel sad because they miss school. How do your friends feel? How do you feel?
- Your shoulders look tight. Sometimes I do that when I feel sad. Is that how you feel? Where else in your body do you feel sadness?
- When your child tells you about their emotions, resist the desire to tell them to be happy. Ask questions to learn more about their sadness or anger.
- Tell me about what happened.
- It’s OK to cry.
- A lot of people would be frustrated by that.
- If your child needs a limit, you can offer a regular sad time each day. Maybe you can give each other 30 minutes to be as sad or mad or frustrated as you need to be.
- After your child has been able to tell their whole story, you can help your child discover some healthy ways to express their sadness.
- Share stories of what you have done when you felt sad. Or ask grandparents or respected family friends to share stories of their lives.
- Encourage your child to express their feelings using art, music, and play. Music connects more closely to the emotional part of our brains. What are some songs from your family or culture that have been sung during sad or hard times? Maybe your child could write a poem or song about what they are experiencing. Drawing pictures of how they feel or making stories with stuffed animals are other ways to express sad emotions.
- Talk with your child about the rituals your culture uses during times of loss. Are there special foods, special songs, or prayers that your family can use to honor the feelings of loss you are experiencing?
Giving our children strategies for dealing with sadness is an important gift we can share with our children to help prepare them for adulthood. And it is also very hard work. So be sure to take care of yourself by
- Getting enough rest
- Eating healthy food
- Moving your body, outside if possible and inside if needed
- Finding an adult friend or partner who can support or listen to you
- Connecting with family members remotely by text, phone, or video chatting
You can learn more about supporting your child through grief here:
The Centre for Living with Dying at the Bill Wilson Center provides individual and group counseling for adults and children experiencing loss.
Dr. Nadine Burke, California Surgeon General, has published stress management playbooks for adults and for parents and kids. Both are available for download here:
Updates and Support Resources from your
Visit the Evergreen Wellness website for mental health and self care resources for students, parents, and teachers.