Anyone who has ever lost a close loved one can understand the intensity of grief that must be dealt with, but few of us can truly relate to how those same feelings are best handled in the hearts and minds of young children. Although it may seem uncomfortable at first, helping your child find appropriate ways of adjusting to the loss of their loved one can help prevent emotional damage which can linger for the rest of their life. The following suggestions can help your child deal with grief in a positive way.
Express Your Tears and Sadness Openly
Allowing your child to watch you openly grieve is one of the healthiest examples you can set. While there is a difference between falling to pieces and openly crying in front of a child, many people simply suppress the sadness they naturally feel after the death of a close loved one. By watching you cry and express your own sadness in a healthy way, your child will learn that “allowing” their own feelings and tears is a normal response to loss. You can further aid the process by encouraging your child to talk and cry as the opportunity arises.
Include Your Child in Funeral Services
Attending the funeral service as a family can help a young child put the concept of death into perspective. Since children naturally have many questions about death in general, spending time in a setting with many other relatives and friends who are feeling the same grief can help them understand that their feelings are normal and natural. If you allow your youngster to view the body of the deceased, you may be able to better explain that while their loved one’s body doesn’t work anymore, memories can still last forever.
Cuddle Up With a Book
Lots of good books are available to help children deal with grief; reading with your child can help them understand more about death, particularly if you are having challenges finding the right words yourself. Visit your local library or look online to select a book that is age appropriate and reinforces any religious and/or spiritual beliefs held by your family.
Gift Your Child With a Memoir
Often after the death of a loved one, memories can be “seen” everywhere you look; by gifting your child with a specific object that they associate with their loved one, you help your child make a tangible connection to the memories in their heart. The value of the item is not important; dad’s favorite hat may stir up fond memories of playing outside together, whereas an expensive gold watch that was rarely worn carries little meaning to the child. Let your child help to show you which objects make them feel a little better.
Create a Living Memory With a Tree
Children typically do not understand “where” their loved one is after death, but creating a living memory by planting a tree or shrub in honor of the deceased can be helpful. Explain that the plant represents the wonderful memories that the child can always go back to in their heart, and that they can visit the tree anytime they want a visual reminder of the love that still lives strong. Encourage your child to help plant the tree and talk about the transition of their loved one to deepen their understanding.
Death is never an easy subject to address, especially with children, but there are ways to help. With your willingness to be open and honest, you can help you child learn valuable lifelong lessons as gently as possible.