No matter how old you are, grief is a difficult process to go through. Losing a loved one can come as a shock and cause serious pain, and everyone experiences grief differently. While it is more than natural to try and protect your children from any bad feeling they may encounter in the world, it’s impossible to hide grief from them or make it go away — even if they’re quite little. Kids usually have a keen way of noticing when something is wrong and picking up on moods. No matter what, your kids will experience grief at some point in their lives, and teaching them to manage it properly can help put them on the right path towards a healthy system of processing their feelings.
While everyone processes loss differently, there are a few ways you can start teaching your kids to manage and process grief in their own way. By being supportive, caring and open with them, they’ll understand that they’re in a safe place to grieve however they need to. Here are just a few of those ways to start.
Be Honest With Them
While trying to hide loss can be tempting, it’s best to be as honest as possible with your children. This goes for everything from pets to celebrities to loved ones and family members. It may be easier in the moment to tell your children that the family dog went to live on a farm upstate or that their uncle is taking a long trip, but honesty is a part of the process of learning about grief. By normalizing death as a part of life, your kids won’t be shocked when they encounter it for the first time at an older age. Simply put, they deserve the truth, and it’ll help them learn to process in the long run.
Use Developmentally Appropriate Language
While honesty is important, you should also take age and development into account when you consider how you’re going to talk to your child about death. There’s an important balance that comes between being direct, but not scaring or traumatizing them. Rather than offering too many details and overwhelming them, try to answer the questions they do have and guide them through their emotional process.
Prepare Them, if Possible
Many losses happen suddenly, and that’s a part of life, too. But if it’s possible to gently prepare your children for the experience of grief, you should test the waters. While many people don’t like to talk about death or end of life plans, having one can ensure that a person who is dying can have the end of life experience they want. In addition, it can give loved ones a chance to prepare and gain closure. Having a few conversations with your children about these ideas can help prepare them for the experience so they can process easier.
Participate in Rituals and Traditions
Some parents worry that taking their children to funerals will be too morbid or shocking, but bringing them along can actually be more helpful than originally thought. Rituals like funerals and other traditions can help kids gain closure and understand that death is real. By leaving children out of important grief milestones, they can feel excluded or lack an understanding of the process. Even if the funeral itself may not be in the cards for you or your family, other rituals and traditions can help ease them into the process.
Allow for Questions and Exploration
Kids naturally question many things, and grief will often be no different. While you may not have all the answers, offering ideas and engaging in conversations about what happens after people pass away, philosophies on death and other ideas it may spark can be helpful for children when forming their own understanding of the process.
No matter what, you’re their parent and you want to be there for your child. Offering comfort may seem like a basic instinct, but it’s one of the most important parts of the process. Reminding your child that they aren’t alone in their feelings and helping them feel supported and safe can help them manage their emotions and learn about the way they process. Just like adults, kids are unique in their needs. Learn about the forms of comfort they need and shape your care around them.
Don’t Rush the Process
Kids and adults are similar in a lot of ways, and this is yet another one of them. The grieving process takes time, and that time is different for everyone, kids included. If you don’t expect yourself or other adults to process death quickly, you shouldn’t rush the process for children, either. Especially if this is their first experience with grief, it may sting for a particularly long time. Give them the space they need to process and learn about their emotions.
Managing Grief With Your Kids
Grief is always hard, no matter who you are, and learning about it is a natural part of life. By having open conversations, allowing for natural curiosity and being supportive and caring, you can teach your children to manage grief and process their feelings — a skill they can take into adulthood and rely on for years to come.