I recently polled my audience on my IG stories to see what you wanted to know more about and you chose children and grief.
Which totally makes sense.
With COVID our kids are grieving the loss of their usual daily routine, friends, teachers, sports & after school activities, graduation, the ability to visit family or go to the playground, the ability to celebrate their birthday with friends and the list goes on.
They’re worried about friends and family getting sick. They’re worried they might get sick.
Add to that the wide range of emotions that surface with witnessing and learning about racial injustice, and the media highlighting the violence and looting instead of the many peaceful protests, means your kids might also be feeling scared and sad recently.
As an adult, you know how difficult it’s been to navigate your emotions over the last couple of months. It’s extra hard for our kids who live in the present moment and may struggle to see how we got here or remember that it won’t always be this way.
First, I need you to know that there’s no one-size-fits-all guideline for grief and children.
Every child is unique. And you know your child best.
For example, it’s common for grief and anxiety in young children to present as physical symptoms (headache, stomach, etc). I have a friend whose daughter has been complaining of dizziness. While they’re getting it checked out by a pediatrician (always a good idea) she’s aware that this might just be how grief and worry is showing up for her daughter.
So, how do we start talking to our kids about grief?
Honest Open Communication
“The most important element about children and grief is not the AGE or SIZE of the child but the KNOWLEDGE and HONESTY of the parents or other guardians.” ~ Grief Recovery Institute
If you want your children to be honest with you, you must be honest with them.
If you want your children to talk about their feelings with you, you must talk about your feelings with them.
How many of us have lied and said we were “fine” when we weren’t? OR shrugged off a “What’s wrong?” with a vague and dismissive “nothing”.
Why do we do this? Because people have been dismissive of our feelings, ”Don’t worry, things will look better tomorrow.” Or, they tell us how we should be feeling, “You should be grateful for what you have.”
These kinds of statements taught us that it wasn’t safe to share our feelings.
If you want your kids to feel safe sharing their feelings with you, start by validating how they feel.
It’s okay to feel sad. I feel sad too.
It’s okay to feel sacred. I get scared sometimes too.
It’s okay to feel upset.
Because…truth, we ALL feel that way sometimes. It’s just part of being human. We’re here to experience EVERY emotion – and so are our kids.
We’ve already talked about how “being strong” is one of the myths of grief over here. It doesn’t help us complete our grief and it doesn’t help our kids to see us pretending to be strong. It gives them a model for bottling up their feelings, numbing out, and avoiding.
80% of our communication is non-verbal. Which means your kids know something’s up even if you aren’t talking about it – and they’re left to fill in the blanks on their own.
We need to start talking about how we’re feeling AND we need to go first. We also need to talk about what we do that helps when we feel this way (like moving our bodies, listening to music, screaming into a pillow, journaling, meditating, praying, creating something, talking to someone we trust, taking a bath, etc). And we need to encourage our kids to try different things to see what’s helpful for them.
There’s Nothing To Fix Here
You can’t out-think your feelings. You can’t “fix” them either.
Our feelings are our teachers. We learn what’s important to us, what we value and believe about ourselves, others and the world we live in by listening to our feelings and sharing them with someone we trust.
You don’t try to “fix” feeling happy or safe or excited or joyful or loved or peaceful or comfortable. The emotions that make us uneasy aren’t meant to be fixed either. They’re meant to be felt and heard and seen. They allow us to show up with compassion to the part of ourselves that is wounded, angry, scared, frustrated, anxious, bitter or heartbroken.
Our kids need this same compassion. They need us to show them compassion so they can learn to be compassionate with themselves.
Start The Conversation
Skip the standard questions like…
How are you?
How was your day?
Or the stomach-clenching “Let’s sit down and talk about this.” (Seriously, have you ever heard that sentence and not thought “oh shit” while bracing yourself for the worst?)
Instead, in a conversational tone, start by talking about yourself…you go first.
This is what I heard today. Did you hear that? Or What do you think?
This was hard today and I felt…
My favourite thing that happened today was…
Most of the time they’ll volunteer something in return like you would naturally in a conversation. Or you can ask what they learned, or their favourite part of the day, or what was hard. Because you went first, it’ll feel less like an interrogation.
Remember to be patient with yourself and your kids. It’s going to take more than one conversation.
Learning to be open & honest about how we feel and learning to ask for what we need right now (a hug, some space, a walk, etc) is something we practice every day.
Also, did you know there is a Grief Recovery program for kids? Well, it’s actually for adults, but it helps YOU help your kids. If you’d like to learn more, simply send me an email through the Contact Form and I’ll tell you all about it!
And finally, I’ve created a free cheat sheet for you with a list of Dos and Don’ts when talking to your children about their grief. You can grab it here.