by Erin Troup, LPC, NCC, CT
Raising a child is a tough job, arguably the TOUGHEST job in the world! Imagine how much tougher that job can be when grief has overtaken our ability to even be present for ourselves let alone a child in our care. We often hide grief from the young ones we love. We feel it might be a scary topic for them, or something they should not be exposed to. How do we allow ourselves to grieve and feel comfortable sharing our grief with the young children in our lives without feeling like we may hurt their emotional development and their world view over time?
Things to keep in mind:
Children are exposed to death and loss more often than we think. So they need words to talk about it.
Think of every Disney movie your child has ever watched. Up until recently, many of the parents in these movies have died or the characters have been separated from their primary attachment figures. This theme has been present in fairy tales since the beginning of time. Fairy tales create all sorts of imagination but they never mention the word “death”. We as adults never like to say it either. We use words such as “passed away”, “gone”, “In Heaven” or “sleeping”- which will be sure to lessen any child’s chances of wanting to go to bed in the near future for fear that they too may never come back. It is helpful for kids to hear the words “Death”, “Died”, “Body stopped working” to help them understand the finality of death but also keep their imaginations from making the concept a scary and ominous thing.
The conversation is harder for us to start than it is for the children to hear.
Children are very aware of what is going on even when we try to hide it from them. In order for our children to develop positive grieving patterns they need to see that it is ok to share their feelings and talk about the questions they have. It is fine to cry in front of children. You are deeply missing someone who meant a lot to you and often this person meant a lot to that child as well. Let children know that you are feeling sad and you miss someone. A word of caution, large hysterical reactions such as extremely deep sobbing may scare a child so if you feel like your tears could become much more, just let the child know you are sad and need some time alone and find a place to release your emotions. Getting started is the hard part and there will be mixed reactions and sometimes more questions. Seek support from a professional if the death might be complicated or traumatic in nature.
Airline Safety Rules Apply
Have you ever been on a plane and the safety demonstration instructs you to put the mask on yourself before assisting others and small children? The same is true in our grief. We need to be sure that we are taking care of ourselves before we try to care for others. Reach out and get the support you need for yourself and for the children, take the time to let your emotions come and go, surround yourself with friends and family and also take time away from them when you need it. Grief is on your timeline. By allowing ourselves to grieve we show others, particularly the little ones that grief is a very NORMAL and HEALTHY part of life. Our grief is what shows us and others that someone has held a very special place in our heart.
Erin Troup will be the guest speaker at our Lunch and Learn
Discussing Fears & Feelings – a workshop for family members supporting grieving children on Wednesday, September 20th, at 11:30 a.m. at Whitehall Public Library
Erin Troup, LPC, NCC, CT will guide the workshop through open and supportive conversation as well as tangible information. Erin is a Licensed Professional counselor with a specialty in Early childhood and grief issues.