Like it or not, death is an inevitable part of life. We all want to protect our children from the pain and anguish of grief but at some point our kids will encounter the death of a loved one.
When this happens, as parents, we have the responsibility to be there to support and guide our children through this difficult time. Though each child responds differently, how parents respond to a loss may set the tone for how their children react.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' website Healthy Children.org tells us, "Youngsters often take their cues from watching the reactions of other family members, particularly their parents."
How can we help our kids?
According to the AAP, "As with most topics, communicating with children about death should be honest and direct. Children need to grieve as much as adults do. They need to be able to share their feelings and talk about how they are going to miss the person who has died."
Your child's age needs to be taken into consideration when helping them deal with the death of a loved one. Young children may not understand the finality of it.
Using words like "lost" (as in "We lost Grandma") or "sleep" as in ("She went to sleep") should be avoided. These terms may only confuse or create anxiety about becoming lost or going to sleep since much of young children's understanding is in literal terms.
Encourage your children to talk to you. Be there as a parent to answer any of their questions and address any new concerns. "Will something happen to you, Mom?" While this question breaks your heart, it is important to address it and reassure your child that you are not going anywhere.
How do we help guide our children through grief when we are an emotional wreck ourselves?
Remember, it is okay to cry in front of your child. Doing so may encourage them to do the same. Your open and honest grief enables them to feel comfortable expressing their own feelings and guide them towards the path of healing.
If your own grief makes it extremely difficult to adequately field questions or be there for your children, take a break and enlist the help of close family members who are capable of comforting your children. Addressing your own emotional needs will help you cope better and be able to be present and address the needs of your children.
Since I am no expert, I encourage anyone looking for help with grief counseling to contact a mental health professional. In the meantime, here are some helpful resources:
Healthy Children - Helping Children Cope with Death
Kids Health - Helping Your Child Deal with Death
Kids Health - When a Pet Dies
Madison and Chatham Parents - How do you help your children deal with the loss of a loved one? We would like to hear your insight.