Continued from: How to help children deal with loss and grief – Part I
Maintain routine with little distractions
Any kind of loss brings chaos and interrupt usual routines. It’s usually children who are troubled a great deal with disturbed schedules. Try to maintain a routine as early and as much as possible, after the loss. The comfort of normalcy and familiarity provides a sense of safety during a tough time.
“If their routine must be altered, caregivers should explain what, exactly, will be different, and explain that the change is only temporary. Keeping the child informed will help ease the fear and insecurity that accompany grief.”
On the contrary, sometimes what helps bring comfort are little distractions, recreational and social activities or any type of break.
“Taking some time away from the situation will help change their mindset and assure them that life continues, even after a sad event.”
Acknowledge their feelings
Children naturally display a wide range of emotions while dealing with grief. A child may seem angry, sad, worried, afraid, upset and frustrated and it all is normal and appropriate. Sometimes they may get involved in irrational thoughts that some particular action or behavior may cause something bad or may bring another loss. Our duty is to acknowledge and normalize their emotions.
Dr. Wolfelt explains:
“It’s our job to become familiar with what those might be so we don’t shame kids for having them. They may be scared to go to school or camp for fear that something will happen to somebody else while they’re gone.”
Children don’t sense one emotion constantly for a long period of time. Similarly a child grieve in doses but you should not ignore these phases just because you know that it will pass.
“They have micro moments. Then they bounce back to being their usual child selves. Then they do it again. And again.”
Children don’t always reveal their emotions in words. If a child is unable to show emotions verbally, help him process grief through other ways like drawing, painting, pretend plays. Sometimes reading age-relevant stories on loss and grief, help some children recognize their emotion and express how they exactly feel.
Show your emotions
In order to reassure a child that all kinds of emotions are acceptable and that it is ok to react and cry in response to a loss, your role as an adult is to be open and acknowledge your own feelings. It makes it easy for a child to process their own grief, knowing that they are not alone.
Dr. Goodman suggests:
“You don’t need to hide your reaction; that’s not authentic and it doesn’t validate that something difficult happened. You might say, ‘Sometimes I have a really down day because I’m thinking about my mom and I miss her and I feel like nothing’s the same. I don’t know if you ever get like that.”
By demonstrating your feelings and communicating in a clear and healthy way, you help kids understand and express theirs.
Once all that clutter of emotions is no more alien to a child, he needs you to comport him and help him gauge his feelings and develop an understanding of incorporating that loss into his life. He wants to know how to feel better, to feel somewhat normal after that catastrophic loss, to learn to move on. Provide a listening ear but don’t incline or let him incline towards the rough path for too long. Shift the talk to something interesting or positive or engage him in one of his favorite activity. Know what brings him joy and do that more often in coming days, weeks and months.
Healing from loss takes time. Allow your child to heal, meanwhile keep up with conversations and other activities to check how your child is progressing.
Talk to your child about the loved one, remember that person and let your child recollect beautiful moments spend with the deceased. These small talks and memories keep a child in his best spirits, give him control over all kind of emotions and provide a healthier way to cope with them.
“They need to see that grief includes missing someone after they die and being sad when we can’t see them or talk to them. They also need to understand that it is perfectly normal to talk to them anyway — and that saying their name and talking about them is how we keep them in our world for the rest of our lives.”Johnson Young.
Questions children may not ask
The loss of a loved one is scary. World suddenly seems unsafe to live in Children need plenty of assurances and encouragements while they are processing it and trying to heal. It plays a significant role in comforting them. There are these concerns and questions in a child\s mind that they may never ask but it is good to address them.
Why children may feel guilty?
Make sure to tell a child that death was not their fault and they could not have done anything to prevent it.
As mentioned earlier, a child may have all kind of irrational thoughts to believe that somehow he is responsible for the death of his loved one. A younger child may regret and feel guilty that it has happened because of the fact that he was not obeying and was behaving really bad for quite some time. A child who has lost a loved one to suicide and is old enough to understand what suicide is, may feel that the person chose to die because he failed to make them happy.
A child may feel more miserable with a lot of “What-ifs” and “Should-haves”. If a death occurs due to an unfortunate and traumatic incident and a child was involved in it, in some way, he would make himself responsible for contributing to that person’s death. A child witnessing the passing away of a loved one, due to terminal disease or an accident may feel guilty of not being able to help saving that person.
Reassurances – Plenty of them
- Tell them that their loved one didn’t choose to die. They didn’t abandon the child and that it was not in their capacity to desire death or life. In cases like suicide, you can assure the child how they were not in right state of their mind to do something like that and explain mental illness in an age-appropriate way.
- Tell them that their loved one is safe and is not in any kind of pain. Assure them that their death doesn’t bring any danger to them. It is important for them to feel safe and secure.
- If a serious illness led a loved one to death, make sure the child knows what kind of illness made them die so that they can establish a difference between those diseases and other illness like common cold and flu.
- Tell them that even if they have lost a loved one, they have support from other adults and family members. That they will always be loved and count on others for any help.
- Tell them that how death is inevitable. Things change, you adapt this change and life must move on. Let them know that they will heal and it will become better with time.
Seek Help when needed
Finally, It is explicable that dealing with a grieving child along with trying to manage your owe inconsistent emotions in such upsetting times can be very difficult.
At the end of the day, if there is a need of outside help, ask for that. Look around in your family and community. Everyone can use some help to better direct the emotions of a younger grieving child. Consider establishing a support system for your child within community groups. Talk to doctors, psychologists, counselors, spiritual guides whatever you think will benefit.
When to look for therapy
Some children don’t open up and try to hide their pain, considering that talking about it may make it worse. If you feel your child is struggling with grief, he might need professional help.
Different behavioral and emotional changes are normal after a loss. However, the following signs, if continued for a long time may suggest a problem.
- The child considers it hard to talk about his loved one.
- Displaying constant aggression.
- He experiences physical discomfort like headaches and stomach pain.
- Change in his eating or sleep patterns such as eating too much or experiencing insomnia.
- Avoids socializing with friends.
- Continued loss of performance at school.
- He is not coming out of self-blame and guilty.
- Destructive behavior like inclining to hurting themselves.
Relax and take it easy
Every child, every parent and every household is different and they react differently. These are not strict rules but guidelines based on general nature and human/child psychology. Take them as a strategy and work your way to cope up with grief and loss. Trust your intuition and see what works best for you in your circumstances.
It all of this is making an already awful situation worse and you seem to lose your cool instead of helping yourself and your child. Take a breath, relax and know that it is OK if something isn’t the way you expected it to be. Respect your as well as others’ feelings and let it be.
“Our job as the big people is to teach, to support, and to continue to keep our loved ones with us after they die, to acknowledge their absence and to let kids be kids.”Johnson-Young
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