Events of the past eighteen months have meant that the subject of grief and loss has become much more prominent. A survey carried out by the Ruth Strauss Foundation revealed that many parents said they felt much more comfortable being open with and talking to their children about loss. For some however it remains a challenge. The survey also revealed that three in five parents believed their child’s school had a role to play in supporting these conversations. Yet many teachers receive no formal training on how to support a child with loss. How comfortable do you feel about supporting a child and being able to find the right words to comfort them?
While working through her grief with me, one of my clients came to realise that she had been putting on a brave face since the death of a family member. She had been told by well meaning friends and relatives that she needed to be strong for her children. As a result, she had tried very hard to be strong. She hid her grief and didn’t cry in front of her children. She did this for over a year before realising that she was stuck and that she was beginning to feel numb. Through her work with me using the Grief Recovery Method she found the space and tools she needed to start expressing her feelings of grief and loss more openly. Soon she was able to share with her children how sad she felt about the family member dying and how much she missed them. She was, in fact, teaching her children a healthy way to express their own sadness at the loss. She was demonstrating that grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss and that it’s ok to feel sad.
Of course, bereavement isn’t the only loss that a child might encounter. On average a child may encounter 15 significant losses during their childhood. These can include divorce of parents, family estrangement, the death of a pet, moving to a new house or school, being bullied to name but a few.
Another client that I was working with had moved to a new house in the past. Her child was around 3 at the time and due to the move, they had to give the family cat away. Trying to spare her child’s feelings she said that the cat had gone to stay with someone for a while. Now her child was 5 and they were still asking when the cat was going to come back home. My client worked through the ‘Helping Children With Loss Programme’ and discovered a set of tools to use to help her child with the feelings of loss they still held around the cat. She was able to tell the emotional truth that the cat was not coming back and was able to help her child say ‘goodbye’ to the cat and the pain they felt around the loss.
How do you feel when a child asks you questions about loss or grief? Do you get that sinking feeling and struggle to find the right words? Do you tell the emotional truth? Or do you try and change the subject?
If you want to support children with grief and loss:
- Listen with your heart and allow your child to express their emotions without judgement
- Go first, by telling the truth about your own grief and how it feels, it will help your child to feel safe about opening up to you
- Be patient, don’t try and force them to talk
- If you have more than one child, bear in mind that each will have their own unique and individual way of reacting
- Try not to say “Don’t feel sad”, “Don’t cry”. Children need to be allowed to feel sad
- Acknowledge how they are feeling without trying to fix it
If you found this blog of interest and would like to know more about the ‘Helping Children With Loss Programme’ get in touch with me and we can have a chat.