Nine Ways to Help Children Cope With Loss and Grief
by Sally Sacks, www.sallysacks.com
The biggest problem children have in coping with their grief is the inattention and lack of awareness adults have in the need to talk about it, express all kinds of feelings around it, and to help children to find a way to compensate for the loss.
Often parents are ill equipped to deal with grief in their children, because they have a hard time dealing with it themselves. For example many stoic type families just held it in, enforcing the need to be strong. If you grew up in a family like this you would have no outlet to express your feelings. It would not be welcome and you would know it, so you hold your feelings in. These people become parents and the cycle is repeated. If you let the feelings out, it's healthy, normal, and gives you a place to build from. Naturally, if you express your grief, you need to know where to go with it next, and again if you are a parent, you need to know how to direct your child.
I have dealt with many kids who have no way to connect to their deceased parent. I ask them how they keep their mom or dad's spirit alive, or keep a relationship with them, and they say they don't know. They are unaware that the relationship and image of another in your thoughts and in your memory never dies. The body dies, but the spirit does not. It is so strange how people can believe in and connect to a God that they have never personally witnessed or seen, but those same people can't connect to a person they actually saw, knew existed and loved.
People all over the world connect to the spirit of God, regardless of the lack of empirical evidence. They can believe in what's told to them to believe, but can't make the connection on their own. Children need to learn to make a spiritual connection. They need to find ways to talk with their deceased loved one. Parents have to guide kids on this one, no matter what their age.
I had a young girl recently who lost her dad, and was unable to talk about him, even though I asked lots of questions. It was too painful. She needed to let her feelings out. She was channeling her feelings out in the wrong direction, being needy with boys, and always angry at her mom. When we worked together, and I helped her to understand that her dad's spirit was alive, around her and in her, she began to think differently. She slowly began to focus on memories of her dad, and what he had given her, rather than focus outside herself. She became connected to him again in a new and different way, but a way that worked.
She expressed her anger at him for dying and leaving her. He was so good at so many things that he could have taught her, and wasn't there. She expressed her sadness at his terrible suffering from cancer, and the anger at how it destroyed him. No one could talk about it because it was too sad, and that made her feel even more alone. After she got the real feelings out we could work on keeping her memory alive with her dad. If you are a parent dealing with a child who has lost someone dear and you have too, get help for yourself and help your child. Here are nine things you can do.
- Don't think that you need to go to a cemetery to express yourself to loved ones. If you teach spiritual development you are aware that the person doesn't live in the cemetery. They live in your heart and mind which are with you everywhere. You want to keep that memory alive by carrying out behaviors of the person.
- Create a tangible reminder that you can see everyday. Keep their favorite item in your closet, or favorite picture in your room. Dedicate a sculpture or statue or flower arrangement in your house to them. Plant a tree in your yard for them, or a flower.
- Take a balloon and attach letters to them and let it fly free to the universe.
- Write to them in a special journal only for them and your private communication to them.
- Wear something that they liked to school.
- Order their favorite meal, or make their favorite cake on their birthday. You can even take a piece of cake and bottle of wine to the cemetery or their favorite place on their birthday. If you feel sad, let yourself be sad.
- Always talk to children about their deceased loved one, reminding them of how they are like that parent or have such good qualities like them. If they are sad, disconnected or don't answer, that's ok; keep doing it.
- Get help with yourself for the loss, and dealing with it if you are having trouble helping your children. If you don't get help for yourself you will not be able to help your children with the things that they need to do to keep their loved one's spirit alive.
- Teach children to live consciously, day by day in the moment. Life is short and we don't want to miss connecting to anyone that we love, dead or alive.
Sally Sacks, M.Ed is a licensed psychotherapist, with 20 years of experience, counseling individuals, children, families and couples. Sally is the author of How to Raise the Next President, a groundbreaking parents' guide to teaching and instilling in their kids the qualities they'll need to be happy, successful and productive, no matter which path they choose in life. Sally offers personal and group coaching and can be reached through her website at www.sallysacks.com.
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