In times of loss, helping your child grieve is important not only for supporting them through the present loss, but also for the sake of teaching them how to face the many losses they will experience throughout life. Part of the solution can be found in grief counseling. Loss can happen through death, to be sure, but losses come in many shapes and sizes.
Your child is looking to you for cues on how to grieve. If you’re trying to dismiss a loss as trivial or you are hiding your own grief, your child will do the same. Alternatively, as you allow yourself to grieve in your own healthy ways and offer compassion and patience to yourself in the process, your child will learn through your example how to face their own pain.
How can you support your child?Allow your child to express his or her feelings. Grief can look like anger, it could look like tears, and it could look like needing alone time. Your child may have a delayed reaction such as a public meltdown. He or she may wake up in the middle of the night and want to talk about all his or her feelings. Sometimes grief looks like wanting to be distracted by a favorite movie, and other times your child may need extra forms of physical affection.
Because children are inexperienced with grief, it may not look like being sad. It could take the form of tantrums or back talk. Grief is uncomfortable and unpleasant. Children naturally try to avoid painful things. Learning to cope with the pain of loss and grief in a healthy way is similar to coping with physical pain. There are ways to do it that are healthy, including the following.
- Encourage tears
- Share good memories
- Find a creative outlet
- Take time away from distractions
- Practice sitting quietly with your child
- Provide a safe environment to express fear and anger
- Listen without needing to solve their concerns
It is wise to be alert to symptoms of depression, such as difficulty sleeping, sleeping a lot, changes in appetite, and a loss of interest in normal things. Grief abates with time, but deeper symptoms of depression may require more serious help than the occasional sad day.
Grief counseling and the many forms of loss.
Loss comes in many shapes and sizes. A child may feel the loss more acutely than an adult because it is still a new experience for him or her. Here are a few different ways your child may experience loss.
Death of a pet.
This is a common early childhood experience of loss. Whether due to a tragic accident or the end of a disease, the loss of a pet may be the first real experience your child has with death. Help your child understand what is happening with honesty and compassion. Allow him or her the time to grieve.
Remind your child that God cares for the animals: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” – Luke 12:6, NIV
Death of a family member.
Another early loss could be the death of a grandparent. Allow your child to express his or her feelings. Talk about memories together. Maybe display an heirloom or give a gift that your child can use to anchor his or her memory.
This may be the first funeral that your child has attended. Prepare your child for the solemnity of the event, and let him or her ask hard questions. It is okay if you don’t have the answers. Just talking out loud may be your child’s way of processing his or her experience.
Death in the Bible.
Death is a part of the Bible. In the Old Testament, many characters discuss their funeral arrangements.
The death of Jacob.
“Then he gave them these instructions: ‘I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite.’” – Genesis 49:29-30, NIV
The Death of Moses.
“And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.” – Deuteronomy 34:5-8, NIV
Jesus predicts His death.
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” – Matthew 16:21, NIV
The death of Jesus is pivotal to the story of Christianity, but so is the story of his resurrection. Talking with your children about death can also include conversations about new life. Jesus promised Martha that there will be a resurrection.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.’” – John 11:23-25, NIV
Moving and other life transitions.
When a family moves from a familiar home to a new one, even in the same town, the upheaval can cause grief. Maybe this home is the only one that your child remembers. Children rarely have a voice in the choice to move, and even if they did, they are not always able to understand the reasons that their parents have for moving. Allow your child to grieve and say goodbye. Let him or her mourn before you jump into all the excitement of a new home.
Sometimes moving comes with changing schools. No longer having the same friends can feel like a huge loss for many children. They experience the grief of losing current friends and fears about making new ones. Try to maintain some of the connections from the old place as you prepare to enter the new.
Children are often more adaptable than you may think, but that does not mean that every transition will be easy or smooth. Some children may try to suppress their grief, while others may be highly dramatic. Be patient with them as they process each change in their way. God will work new things in time:
“‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’” – Isaiah 43:19, NIV
Children with divorced parents.No matter how amicable your divorce may be, the children are still reeling from a drastic change in their family dynamic. The loss of a familiar and expected life can cause a great deal of grief. Give your child the opportunity to express his or her feelings to both parents. Acknowledge the ways that his or her heart may be feeling broken, and don’t try to force cheerfulness and positivity before your child is ready.
No matter how your child’s life changes due to divorce, point your child to the love of Jesus, who does not change.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8, NIV
Grief counseling for children.
When there has been a loss or change in your family, everyone may benefit from counseling. With the help of a counselor, working through grief together can strengthen bonds. Individual and separate counseling for children and parents could also be a beneficial way to learn about how each person handles grief.
If you are struggling with your grief as a parent, you may struggle to help your child with their grief. Talking to a counselor will give you the tools and the language to work through this difficult time together. Grief counseling will help you grieve and give you tools for helping your child grieve. A Christian counselor is available to help you today.
“Alone”, Courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cuddles from Mommy”, Courtesy of Jordan Whitt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Resting on the Steps”, Courtesy of Zhivko MInkov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mama/Daughter Bond”, Courtesy of Eye for Ebony, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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