Helping a Child Grieve

Here are some insights in response to the Newtown tragedy. I hope they give comfort and guidance to parents.

I wish that there were one perfect way to describe how to help all children grieve a loss. Sadly, there are many different factors which will make a universal answer difficult to provide: the circumstances that a child endures, the support that they may or may not have, the age of the child, and the culture of the child’s country, community, and even family. But some things will be universally true. Here are some thoughts that I hope and pray will bring some direction to any of you who may be searching for direction at this time of tragedy and loss. Some of your kids may think the tragedy in Connecticut is distant and unrelated to them. Other kids will feel scared, unsettled, and saddened.

1. Children, just like their parents, crave emotional safety, meaning that they want to feel that others care about their feelings and will help to take care of those feelings. Children want to feel loves, safe, and secure in their family, and that the people most important to them aren’t going anywhere. There are ways that we can help to ensure those things for our children, and when those things get shaken, there are ways that we can comfort them and help them make sense of their loss.

2. It is important to remember that children express and work through grief in different ways than adults usually will. While adults will often feel heavy and intense feelings over a long stretch of time, children often will have waves of intense feelings, while intermittently returning to a visibly calmer or happier state. Sometimes adults will then believe that children are “back to normal” and “healed,” when, in fact, they haven’t finished working through it. Don’t make the mistake of believing that the way you feel and deal with grief will be the same process your kids will follow.

3. Let your kids express feelings, if they want to. Never stifle their feelings or invalidate their hurt. use simple words and keep things real, but use an empathic and sensitive tone. In fact, gush empathy to your kids like it’s going out of style.

4. As for how much information to give your child, give details and allow them to know details only as much as they ask you or seek to know. Explain to your children that they are safe now, and what has happened to others won’t be happening to them.

5. Finally, give your kids some ideas of what will be happening next, be it a funeral, new reports, candlelight vigils, and saying goodbye. Kids like predictability, so remove the mystery of what is next after tragedy.

Above all, don’t bury the emotions or pretend that they don’t affect you. When YOU visibly and verbally allow yourself to feel pain, hurt, sadness, and even love, it gives your children permission to do the same. And that is something that kids often will watch closely, to see how WE model it.

I have found the following links to be helpful, and I would recommend them to our readers:

HERE are some helpful links to start conversations with your kids about grief and loss, and what can be done to reach out in ways that really matter.

THIS ONE gives some excellent tips for how to let children know about a death.

HERE are some helpful insights about age-specific things for parents to expect their kids to be going through.

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