Coping with the loss of a loved one is extremely difficult, especially when the grieving process involves the whole family. It’s easy to feel completely lost and confused as a parent trying to introduce the concept of death and loss to a child, let alone the pain of saying goodbye to someone the whole family loves and cherishes. Loss is understood as a natural part of life, and yet it shocks us to our very core, often leaving grieving individuals and families isolated, confused, and depressed.
Research shows that people react differently to death and adopt personal coping mechanisms for grief, indicating that they can recover from loss on their own over time through social support and healthy habits. However, learning how to navigate this deep sadness and grieving process as a family is something no family is fully prepared to do. There is no standard time period for someone to grieve, and people of all ages pass through phases of grief at different times. How much kids can understand about death depends largely on their age, life experiences, and personality.
The following are just a few ways parents are encouraged to communicate about the death of a loved one, moving forward in the grieving process together with resilience. While it is not about knowing all of the answers, it’s important to explain death in a child’s terms, being honest while creating an atmosphere of comfort and openness.
Defining death – honesty counts: When a parent explains death to a child, it’s important to foster an environment of open communication and a message that there is no right or wrong way to feel. Honesty is especially important when the news of a loved one’s passing is first introduced, as children of all ages are likely to feel confused and immediately alarmed. Parents are encouraged to share any spiritual beliefs they have about death, presenting a comforting atmosphere as much as possible.
A child’s capacity to understanding death – and the adult’s approach to discussing it – will vary immensely depending on the child’s age. Telling the truth is important because hiding information can cause kids to feel mistrust, or a reluctance to rely on adults for support. As a parent, your main priority needs to be creating a support system for yourself and your family. While telling the truth is crucial, a child’s age and personality will determine how much information should be shared, as not all children do well with a lot of details.
Simplicity is key: When discussing the death of a loved one, it is important to use simple language and to avoid making abstract or even literal statements that a child may misunderstand. Grieving experts advise parents to use clear and concrete words to do away with any ambiguity.
Listen and observe the child’s behavior: Once the grieving adult has used age-appropriate language to convey what has happened, grieving counselors encourage parents to sit quietly and listen, observing the child’s behavior while also helping them express their sad feelings. For example, an age-appropriate book on bereavement could be a sufficient way to introduce the grieving process. Books like “I Miss You,” by Pat Thomas or “The Saddest Time,” by Norma Simon are great tools for talking to kids about death.
Because children do not always communicate with just their words, it’s important as parents to keep a close eye on them, identifying common reactions and behavioral symptoms, such as:
- Mood swings
- Fear of being alone
- Regression to early childhood behaviors
- Physical issues such as stomach or headaches
- Sleeping issues
- Academic troubles
These red flags can indicate a child’s mourning process and may call for professional help. Even when parents are constantly opening the doors for communication, seeking professional family therapy or one-on-one counseling services can benefit a grieving child. Safe Harbor Christian Counseling is committed to offering child and adolescent counseling services and adult counseling services as well as family therapy and parenting services. Safe Harbor is passionate about sharing hope with every child, adult, and family as they cope with grief and the loss of a loved one.
The team of counselors and coaches are adamant about promoting a message of love and open communication through a Christian Based framework. If your family is struggling with the death of a loved one, the team at Safe Harbor is ready to welcome you with open arms.
For more information on Safe Harbor’s counseling, coaching and therapy services, visit http://www.safeharbor1.com. We invite you to join in on the faith-based dialogue found on our Facebook page and to follow Safe Harbor Christian Counseling on Twitter.