As I write this article, our family is experiencing the loss of a very special person in our lives. Knowing how important it is to experience the grief, and also how hard it can be to put that time aside, I thought it would be helpful to share ideas on how parents can support their children through loss.
Here are 7 tips:
Tip #1: Don’t Compare or Judge
The first thing to realize is everyone grieves differently. Some people wear their heart on their sleeve and others prefer to express their feelings in private. Meet your child where they are, and be a shoulder or listening ear if/when they need it.
Tip #2: Teach your Children to Pause
As a culture, we don’t teach our kids to stop and process life events. Instead, we teach them to power through them. I believe depression is one of the results of powering through. The ONLY way to the other side of grief is to feel the feelings. When our children push them down or push them aside, they just fill up with unfinished emotions. Those emotions WILL feel overwhelming at some point in their life. They literally run out of room to hold any more. That’s when you get the explosions; like a volcano. If you ever wonder why they are “overreacting”, part of that is likely old stuffed feelings: anger, hurt, disappointment, frustration, etc. When feelings are not dealt with in the moment, they just settle in and wait for another time. Year after year, children push their feelings down. After all, when would they be able to truly and fully experience a loss or disappointment? They are so busy with school, homework, sports and other activities, they have no time to feel and no time to heal. This needs to change.
Tip #3: When Children Stop Feeling
Children accidentally practice not feeling when they prioritize an assignment, test, project or semester ahead of experiencing their feelings along the way. They become emotionally constipated; stuck. Many kids have told me they are numb and cannot feel their sadness or anger, even though they know they have it.
Tip #4: It’s Not a Big Deal
When we don’t think something is a big deal, we may think our child is making too much out of nothing. Yet, who decides what a child values in their heart; who they love and who they miss? They do. If we devalue or minimize how they feel, they will stop trusting their internal emotional guidance system. If they stop trusting themselves, they will not know how to process big or little losses over the course of their lifetime, which leads to unhealthy coping strategies. Another downside of minimizing or devaluing a child’s feelings is that they stop sharing. Parents have an opportunity to create a much-needed safe space.
Tip #5: Time to Dream
As mentioned above, when kids don’t feel things along their life’s journey, feelings pile up and take up space. That space could be used for joy, dreaming, excitement, anticipation and imagination. That’s what childhood used to be … with a bright future ahead. It’s important to show our kids how to express their feelings along the way, so they can dream and find joy as well.
Tip #6: Looking at the Past
Children experience the loss of friends at school every year. They lose teachers they love, as they move to the next grade or school. When Covid hit, look at how many of their relationships were severed without warning. A lot of families went through major changes, and some kids will never see the kids or families they thought they would see the very next day. Kids went to school one day, and returned a year and a half later. That matters. Our children have been impacted and if they don’t feel their feelings, those feelings will take up space and will wait, often coming out in volcano-like eruptions, without warning.
Tip #7: What You Can Do Today
Here are some great questions you can ask your kids to open up conversations:
- How is your heart feeling since your friend Sally moved? I imagine you miss her.
- What makes your heart happy?
- What are the things that make your heart feel sad?
- Who do you miss from your old school or neighborhood?
- What teachers do you wish you could still know?
- What do you like about our new house? What do you miss about our old house?
- Was there anyone you knew before Covid that you realize was gone when you got back to school? How do you feel about that?
- How do you feel about being back to school post-Covid? Do you miss distance learning? Did anything change? Is it better, the same or worse?
- How did Covid impact your friendships?
- What can I do to support you?
There are literally millions of questions we can ask our kids to let them know we care, we understand and that expressing their feelings is okay. If they are not willing to talk or can’t think of anything in the moment, just say, “No problem! When you think of something, let me know. I’m here.” You are simply opening up the avenues of communication. Of course, each age will be different, but this is a great place to start.
If you would like additional information or support on helping your children process losses, please let me know. You can schedule a complimentary 15 minute phone call here! Remember:
Take your time and connect to their heart.
Being a parent is not about 18 years; it’s about 100 years.
You want a relationship for a lifetime.
Traci L. Williams is the Founder of A Loving Way to Parent. She is known for her intuitive and practical approach to parenting and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 951-240-1407. www.alovingway.com