Supporting them as loss happens
We all experience loss. And we all respond to loss differently. For our kids, they may not have as much experience with loss and so they may need help in knowing how to respond.
You may think your child may not have experienced loss to this point. Before you quit on me, stick with this post – your child has experienced loss, even if just a small loss. And those small losses can be just as powerful in teaching our kids about the world they live in.
Consider loss along a continuum.
Loss is best thought of along a continuum of: big losses and small losses.
Small losses ————————————————————- Big losses
It is also important to remember that categorizing loss (into a big loss or a small loss) will be different for different kids. Take a moment to think about what your child would consider a small loss or a big loss.
In the same idea, there are many different types of losses. Friends moving on, broken toys, sports or games, poor academic performance, moving to a new house, divorce, birth of a sibling, remarriage of family member, or countless other things. So our job is to help them understand and emotionally respond to loss, which will be a pre-cursor to understanding and responding to death.
When loss occurs – allow them the space to talk about how they feel about the loss. Share your feelings about a similar loss when you were growing up. Remember that their response to loss isn’t right or wrong. And neither is yours. Similarly, their reaction is very likely to be WAY different from what you THINK they should be doing. In other words, they may be much more sad about a loss than you believe they should be. That’s okay. But by allowing them to experience the emotional reaction to loss, we can open the door to conversation about other (bigger) losses and death in the future.
Just like loss, I encourage you to consider death along a continuum as well.
Not important ————————————————————- More important
Their way of experiencing death may not be (and probably won’t be) along the same timeline as it is for us.
– developmentally it takes time – sometimes shorter, sometimes longer
– various “events” may be triggers for the loss
Beyond just the death of someone they know, please don’t forget about the intangible impact of loss or grief (i.e., loss of trust, safety/security, control, stability, or support.). In fact, most kids I have worked with would say this is the hardest part of death/loss – because it is harder to articulate to those around you.
So what do kids need?
- They need us to listen. NOT for us to fix it.
- They need us to experience loss well too. Take care of yourself. Allow yourself to experience loss well.
- They need connection and encouragement. Devote just a little more time to your child during this transition. Use more encouraging words. Know they may need a little more boost in their spirit for the next days, weeks, and months.
Helpful Tips to keep in mind
- Listen. Listen. Listen. And Listen some more.
- Fight the urge to fix it or “make them feel better.” It is better to honor their emotions and sit with them in it than to “fix it” and make them feel like their emotions are unwarranted.
- Manage your own emotions and feelings. Be honest (but not overwhelming) in sharing your own feelings. Model appropriate grieving.
- Practice saying what you want to say. Seriously. Take a moment to think through and practice what you want to say to help your child feel better. I think we often forget the impact that we can have when we practice and become more intentional.
- Include your family’s spiritual beliefs. Admit that you don’t know for sure (if you feel that way).
- Prepare them for the services and give them a task if they want it.
- Honor the loss in some way. Something tangible is most advisable because this gives them something to hold, look at, etc. So maybe a picture, a letter, a drawing.
- They will be “okay” when YOU are “okay.” – Get to being “okay” through routines, but don’t act like nothing happened.
- Use books and movies as places to start. Create “sacred” time for connection and attachment to increase support and encouragement.
- Spend 10 more minutes a day fully attending to them. This doesn’t have to be talking about what happened necessarily, but just more tuned in to what your child is doing during this time.
What can you do today to help with loss??