Children are not small adults who can basically raise themselves. Children can be resilient but only to a point.
Being the oldest of six children, having 35 first cousins and also being a mother has taught me that children are much smarter than we ever give them credit for, but that doesn’t mean that they understand all that is happening to them in their homes, schools or in the world at large.
Their bodies, brains and emotions are still developing and they need all the love and guidance we can give them.
I am a big believer in honesty when talking to children but also in making sure that the information I give them is age appropriate. While the airwaves may carry images and words for all of us to see and hear, that doesn’t mean all should see and hear it. Even as an adult there is stuff out there that I don’t watch or listen to because I don’t want it in my brain. It’s not that I can’t handle it, I just don’t want it.
These days, children get bombarded with information they’re not ready for and they don’t have much choice about what they see and hear because the adults in charge of television, movies, radio and other electronic gizmos have gotten greedy and want it all to remain pretty much uncensored so they can continue to have access to what they want.
This is all the more reason for children to feel that they can trust and believe in at least one adult in their lives. When faced with stress and trauma, especially the emotional trauma of losing someone they love, they need to know there are adults out there who have their backs.
Their little hearts can only take so much and that’s why talking and listening to a child is crucial during a bereavement period. I know my son did not want to talk about his father’s death AT ALL but I had to slowly get him to let his feelings out. He had to feel safe about talking openly and honestly about his good days and bad, his sadness, fear, disappointment, anger and even his hopes.
It took time for this to happen and it’s still an ongoing process.If you’re not sure what to do or say to a child who is having a difficult time dealing with the loss of a loved one, here is a helpful story from Hello Grief
, a website (www.hellogrief.org
) that “addresses grief head-on, with real people providing real-life opinions, and sharing real-life stories”:
Having Good Conversations With Your Kids
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.