How You Can Help Your Child Mourn

Jenny Wise has submitted another thoughtful article. Please read and consider her ideas about ways to help a child in grief.

It’s always devastating when someone you love dies. Whether it was a parent, spouse, or friend, the loss is heartbreaking — and it’s not going to suddenly disappear. Grief is a journey that everyone must take. Thankfully, you’re an adult and can find resources, friends, and help to get through this difficult time.

That’s why you need to be there when your child mourns. They don’t have the experience or skills to cope with the death like you can. While you cannot ignore your own needs, read on to learn more about helping your child get through the grieving process.

What To Expect From Grieving

Children aren’t that much different from adults, especially older ones. Most people go through the same five stages of grief when mourning the death of someone close. PsychCentral explains these five stages are:

  • Denial: Refusing to believe or acknowledge that the person died.
  • Anger: Getting upset over the death. This can often include blaming yourself for not doing enough to prevent the death somehow.
  • Bargaining: Seeking to regain control. Since you cannot bring that person back, it tends to include deals with God such as, “I will do anything to bring them back!”
  • Depression: Sadness and regret dominate this stage.
  • Acceptance: Finally, you come to terms with the death and can start to heal and live normally again. Note that this doesn’t mean you’ll never be sad about the loss; just that you can accept it and function.

Of course, the age of your child affects these stages. For example, preschool children can really experience the self-blame part of anger, whereas teenagers often reject help during depression because they believe no one will understand them.

Children With Special Needs

If your child has any special needs, grief can become more complicated. In fact, you might consider not telling your child about the death of someone they love, at least not now. While you know your child best, Friendship Circle recommends carefully telling them.

Special needs or not, your child deserves to know the truth. But you cannot simply say someone has died and then expect them to handle it. First, be honest about the word “death.” If you use a euphemism like “going to sleep,” your child could develop a fear of their own sleep. Explain what death means, but then turn the conversation into a celebration of that person’s life. If possible, include your child in whatever ritual your family chooses, such as a funeral or wake.

In addition, Teacher.org recommends that you accept your child’s emotions. Even if their special needs makes certain stages longer or more intense, you cannot tell them they’re wrong for feeling something. All people need to process grief, and that includes negative emotions.

Don’t Forget About Yourself

If the death impacts your child, chances are you’re grieving as well. Of course, you have to focus on your child first. But that doesn’t mean you need to ignore your own mourning.

Understand that you’ll probably go through those same five stages of grief. Just knowing what’s normal in these situations can help you feel better. But to really help yourself, you need to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat right, and avoid alcohol. And don’t forget to reach out to family and friends when you’re hurting. It’s amazing what a receptive ear can do for your own grieving process.

Mourning Takes Time

As you help your child gets through this difficult time, keep in mind that the five stages of grief are not completed quickly. It can take some time before your child finally accepts the death of a loved one. You can help by giving them time to grieve. Just don’t forget about yourself in the process, as your child needs a strong parent now more than ever.