Losing someone you love is horrible. Whether expected or not, loss stings. It can be debilitating to the strongest of adults. Processing our grief is overwhelming and stirs up emotions we never knew existed. Now imagine, for a moment, all of that? For a child. Your child is experiencing grief, as well. They've lost the same person and rely on you to get them through that pain.
Here are some ways you might want to consider using to help you help your child grieve.
1. Let them talk about the person.
It's going to be hard. Honestly? It's going to suck a lot of the time. But your child is remembering differently than you are. She will need to talk about your loved one. She will need to remember out loud.
2. Pore over pictures.
A child's memories are extremely visual. Let them look at pictures. Help them recreate the moments they can't remember.
3. Tell them stories.
The more you remember about your loved one's interactions with your child the better it will be. Give them more to hold onto.
4. Let them ask questions.
This sounds impossible - your heart is heavy with unanswered questions - your mind races before bed - how can you answer what your child wants to know? You may not be able to. You may decide not to. But their questions might be simpler than you think. And easier to answer. So let them ask. If you tell them no or hush them they might think talking about this is wrong. They don't want to get in trouble and might stop talking about your loved one entirely. So let them ask. It will be good for you. And it's okay for your child to realize that sometimes mommy and daddy do not have all of the answers.
5. Give them something special.
It can be the smallest of items. It can be grand and seem gigantic. Honestly, it can be anything. Something your loved one used to wear. Something you and your family gave them. A token from their childhood. Anything to help them establish a connection, despite the irreparable distance.
6. Encourage them to create.
Creativity heals. Whether you're putting pen to paper, drawing or painting pictures, molding clay in your hands, it heals. We know this as adults. That's why we journal and write and blog. It's why we take pictures. Why we intensely decorate our homes. It's why we have our passions. Think about how relaxed you feel if you sit down to color with your kids. Art therapy has become a thing for a reason. Let your child draw pictures. Pictures of the family, the deceased, whatever it is that they need to do to move forward. Encourage them to write (age-dependent), and buy them a special journal or notebook. A diary with a lock and key. Let them have that safe space.
7. Cry in front of them.
It's okay to do this. Your child knows you're upset. It can be healing for them to see that it's okay to cry. It can help them develop empathy and understanding.
8. Laugh with them.
You know you're grieving. They know you're grieving. They're grieving, too. But they're still kids. They still need to live their lives. Children may do this quickly after losing someone they love. A person passes and children bring joy back to the family. Children are the reason we keep going. Let them live, love and laugh. Don't quiet them. Let yourself laugh with them. You need it.
9. Recognize their confusion.
Sometimes memories of our loved ones forcefully return. For your child this may happen at bedtime. These are legitimate emotions your child is feeling. It's possible that they start off expressing them as a stalling tactic. Your child wants you to stay and talk to them. Lay with them. They don't want you to leave. They don't maliciously bring up memories of your loved ones, there's no harmful intent here. It's just a time that they come to mind. Emotions are easily manipulated when we're tired. Your child has simply called on these memories that they need to feel at that moment. They're likely to become emotional about it. Let them feel what they need to feel. Don't yell at them. It's going to be hard. Sometimes really hard. You know where the thoughts and feelings stem from, but at this point your child does not. She genuinely feels upset and is missing her loved one. She needs to tell you. She needs to cry. Allow for it and guide her gently through the process so she can get some sleep.
10. Love them.
This is a given. An easy way out of this list. Just love them. It will be difficult to return to your routine. I'm not asking you to do so immediately. You should not expect that of yourself. But show your child you love them. They will be experiencing unspoken fears of losing you, and quite possibly fears of losing other grandparents and family members. Love them. Be there and be present with them. Play with them. Draw with them. Take them fun places. Be yourself. Your loved ones wouldn't want things any other way.
* You will see that throughout this post I have used she/her to refer to the child. I do so, most obviously, because I have a daughter. My father passed last October and I have been watching and feeling my daughter's grief process over the past year. It's been rough. Really rough. And quite often I have had to put my daughter's grief before my own. Most parents would do the same. These are just small thoughts to help you figure out how to do so.
Please DO NOT look to this advice in lieu of professional resources. Speak with your doctor, your therapist, your child's teacher, their counselor. Consider therapy for your child if you think she needs it. Or if you think you do. This article is meant only to give you ideas that might help you parent as you process your own grief. To give you things to think about with respect to how to help your child move forward through the grieving process as you do so yourself. Please do not replace face-to-face advice with my words. Reach out to speak with someone if you need to. There is never shame in asking for help.
If you are struggling and in crisis, please contact 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help.