One of the most difficult things for parents is watching their child experieince grief after the death of someone they love. The loss of a life ranks among life’s greatest tragedies.
I think what makes grief so difficult for parents and other caring adults is we can’t make it better; children and teens are going to experience pain as they process through this, and all we can do is be there to support them.
Often, grief is most intense soon after someone has died. But some people don’t feel their grief right away. They may feel numbness, shock, or disbelief. It can take time for the reality to sink in that the person is gone. Many people experience these feelings sporadically, as they come and go.
While they are trying to process their loss, reviewing the stages of grief with your kids is essential. This can help them to understand that what they are feeling is normal. Remind them that we all go through these stages at our own pace and there is no right or wrong way to do it. The most common stages of grief are:
Your child may feel depressed, angry, confused or anxious; they now understand that people they love die, and this is terrifying. The best way to support them is to stand beside them; talk open and honestly, listen, and help guide them as they go through the grieving process.
We live in a world where our children are facing multiple losses, which can produce a deep fear of abandonment and self-doubt in children and teens. Emotions may range from anger, fear and blame to sadness, hopelesness, and disbelief. Grieving is often a messy process for teens. They may become impulsive with their actions or they may withdraw and become depressed. Often times, both of these extremes are experienced.
It’s also important to recognize that many kids struggle with talking in the same way that adults may discuss these feelings. Consider other ways to reach them such as physical activity, writing, and artistic expressions. Engaging in physical activity while they share feelings is often one of the easiest ways for teens to express themselves.
Parents need to recognize that this death may affect their whole family. It is easier for us to take care of others; not so easy to take care of ourselves.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who died. An important part of the healing process is telling stories and remembering. Just bringing up the name of the person who died is a way to give kids permission to share their thoughts, feelings, and questions about the person they lost.
More than anything, they need you to listen.
Teens often ask more questions about life and religion after a death. Be there to listen and help them explore their ideas about the meaning of life. It is normal for them to question their values or spiritual beliefs. Try to offer a non-judgmental, loving ear.
The feelings of pain are also feelings of love. It is a wonderful thing that they care about other people so deeply, and a death, though tragic, can be a nice reminder of that love.
Encourage them to share those feelings of love and appreciation for the people around them.
Continue to be a source of support. Even if children and teens seem to be over their grief, they may still be dealing with feelings around the incident long after others have moved on.
Here are a few signs that your teen may need professional help with grief:
- An unusual drop in grades
- Depression or withdrawal from family or friends that gets increasingly worse
- Trouble sleeping that continues to get worse
- Risk-taking behavior
- Drug or alcohol use (either new use or worsening of existing use)
Being the care-taker and protector of our kids emotions can be overwhelming. The following list contains quick tips to reference while helping your kids.
- Acknowledge your kids presence, their importance, thoughts and feelings.
- Be patient and open-minded. Allow them to grieve in their own way.
- Be available – sit with them, listen, and answer their questions.
- Let them know that a range of emotions is normal.
- Validate their feelings and do not minimize them.
- Give them permission to put their grief and sadness on hold. It is heathy to still experience happiness and move on with their life.
- Continue to provide routine and structure – it helps them feel safe and secure. It also gives them a sense of control in a chaotic time.
- Check-in with the adults involved in their life. Healing takes a village.
Please always remember, it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers.
Sometimes the very simple act of sitting with each other while we fall apart is one of the best ways to show support and compassion. There is something very cathartic and comforting about crying and being vulnerable. Allow yourself and your teen to be in this moment; sit with the feelings and don’t force them to go away. We work through a lot of difficult emotions with sadness and tears.