While children experience the same feelings of despair, sadness, helplessness, anger, anxiety, guilt, confusion and fear that adults do following a loss, they often do not have the maturity and experience to understand, identify and express those feelings.
Communication is key to helping our children understand their grief, and begin addressing it in healthy ways. Without communication, you will not know where your child may have a misunderstanding about how or why the loss occurred. With communication, you will be able to identify areas in which your child is struggling with their grief, and how you can help.
It is important to continue discussing the loss and after affects of the loss (such as moving, remarriage, life milestones), with your children over time.
Below are a few tips to having open, successful communication with your kids about grief and loss at any age:
- As a parent, understand what your goal is before starting the conversation – why are you wanting to talk to your child? Is there a specific issue you want to discuss? A specific question you want to uncover?
- Stay on topic – Once you decide on your goal for the conversation, don’t use this time to bring up other “issues” you’ve wanted to address unrelated to the conversation (i.e., homework, house chores, dating, etc).
- Create a safe environment – Atmosphere can play a huge role in your child’s willingness to open up about how he or she is feeling. Have this discussion in a safe place, away from others who may overhear. Don’t create an intimidating environment, such as starting this conversation in places associated with “getting in trouble.” Having a snack, or doing an activity during which talking is easy could be helpful (such as coloring/drawing, riding in a car, going for a jog, etc).
- Allow your kids to be able to say whatever they need, any way they want, to during your conversation – This does not mean you have to allow your child to use profanity if you do not typically allow it. Rather, enable your child to say what they need to say without “correcting their story,” should you remember it differently, or have a different opinion. It also means not keeping any topics “off limits” – including the details of the loss, even if it’s difficult for you to discuss. Let them say what they need, and ask the questions they need without limitation.
- Know that some things are off limits to parents – It’s not you, it’s them. And it’s normal. But, having more frequent safe, and honest conversations with your children will help them build trust and begin to discuss more. Also know that even if your child isn’t saying anything to you, it doesn’t mean they are not benefiting from the conversation. Know they are processing internally. You should also make sure that your child has additional outlets to have the conversations they can’t have with you – such as a counselor, or support group.