When we experience the death of a loved one, grief is unavoidable. Dealing with grief is difficult, and it can be even more challenging to watch our kids grieve. Grief looks different in every child, so it can be difficult to figure out the best ways to comfort and support our kids.
Here are some ways to support your child through grief:
Understand what grief looks like.
There are many examples of grief and promises to those who grieve in the Bible. Jesus wept when Lazarus passed (John 11:35), Paul encouraged the church to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and was familiar with “bitter sorrow and unending grief.” (Romans 9:1-3)
Young kids grieve differently than adults. It’s common for them to be upset one minute, then okay the next. They can express grief with a variety of emotions. Parents can help their kids process grief by talking about emotions, drawing pictures, and looking at photos together.
Teens may have difficulty addressing their grief, or they may find their own ways to cope. They may experience seasons of feeling okay, then be flooded with emotion again when they are reminded of what happened.
It’s important to remember that grief is not a linear process; it can be seasonal, cyclical, and unexpected. If we hold our kids to a specific expectation of what grief should look like, it can lead to harmful behaviors or coping mechanisms, or hinder their ability to manage it in a healthy way.
The permanency of death can be a confusing concept for young children, so it’s helpful to be clear and concise about what happened., Try statements like “Their heart stopped beating and they are no longer alive.” that give necessary information without going too in-depth. Avoid euphemisms like “he passed away,” “she went to sleep, or “they’re gone.”
If your child is interested in attending the funeral, prepare them for what they may experience: crying people, flowers, a lot of quiet moments, and a casket.
Be honest about your grief with yourself and with your child. Kids learn by observing, and if they see their parents acknowledging their emotions and seeking out proper resources, they will follow suit.
Create space for grief.
Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions about how your child is really feeling. It may be helpful to provide opportunities for you child to work through their emotions, with physical outlets, artistic expression, music, or storytelling.
Seek out counseling if needed. We would love to connect you with a counselor, or check out these additional mental health resources.
Keep routines as normal as possible with school, extracurriculars, and playdates. Communicate with other adults who are involved in your child’s life. It may be beneficial to talk with their teachers, health care provider, and church group leader.
If our kids know that we’re there for them, they can know that they don’t have to struggle through their grief alone. It’s important to let them know that not only do we care for them, but God cares more deeply for them than we can comprehend. Encourage them to bring their thoughts, fears, sadness, anger, and God.
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7
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