When a loved one dies, the overwhelming emotions of emptiness and sadness can be confusing. Helping children cope with grief can be difficult and confusing, particularly as you work through your own grief.
The extent to which children understand death depends largely on their age, life experiences, and personality.But there are a few important points to remember in all cases.
Helping children cope with grief in circumstances when it seems everything is falling apart:
- Allow the child to feel whatever emotion they need to. The obvious emotion of sadness may not happen immediately as many children do not understand the term forever. Some children will feel angry for what has happened to their loved one. Some will feel responsible for the loss and guilty that they should have done more. Some will be confused if they have a happy moment when everyone around is feeling sad. Everyone copes with tragedy in different ways and so do their emotions.
- Understand there is no right or wrong way to behave when life is thrown into turmoil. If the child becomes quiet, preferring to sit and just be in others company, that is OK. If the child becomes aggressive, that may be their way of screaming at the world just how unfair life really is. No matter how the child’s behaviour alters, they are not wrong. It is up to the adult to monitor the behaviour and seek assistance when necessary.
- Don’t assume a child understands the grief they are experiencing, even older children. In such extreme situations, many children either tune out or digress into immature behaviour. It can be their lack of understanding the situation and their emotions that will take time for them to process. If grief is difficult for adults to understand and accept, just imagine how the child is feeling.
- Encourage children to ask questions. The questions do not have to be related to the death either, so long as you are communicating as this will aid in the process of grieving. Do not tell the child a lie or a half truth when asked a question, simply tell them age appropriate answers. If they continue to ask, continue to talk with them, as this a great way of helping children cope.
- Finally, get as much help as you can. Most of us are not experienced to deal with these situations (especially where children are concerned), so enlist your support crew, everyone from counsellors to extended family and friends.
Do you think your children understand grief?
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