A toddler parent and qualified clinical mental health counselor, Katie Lear. She wrote a book on guiding children through grief. This is the account of Lear that Kelly Burch received. Morning Brew is read by more than 3 million people; you should too! This essay-as-told-to is based on a discussion I had with Katie Lear. It has been condensed and trimmed for length.
My middle school friend’s mother passed away suddenly. I gave it my all when I called her. I informed her, “I heard your mom isn’t doing well.” You might say that, my pal retorted.
Now that I’m a counselor, I understand how I internalized the stigmas associated with death and mourning in our society. I had the impression that the words “dying” and “dead” were inappropriate since they might draw attention to my friend’s enormous loss. I was concerned that I had ruined everything.
These days, having assisting hundreds of families in navigating their grief, I am aware that these conversations cannot go wrong. They will be painful, stilted, and embarrassing. But not having children at all is the only way to really screw them up.
PERMIT CHILDREN TO DISCUSS GRIEF OFTEN. Two of the biggest taboos in American culture are death and sex. Simply put, we don’t talk to them enough, and this affects how we parent. However, everyone has experienced grief. We all experience grief at some point, and if we don’t support our children through it, we are failing them. Additionally, we convey to them that we are incapable of handling loss. Children frequently tell me that they haven’t spoken to their parents because their parents aren’t ready yet.
You should give up the notion of having one huge discourse, just like the birds and the bees. Instead, discuss grief with your children frequently. Do not forget that situations other than death can cause grief. Grief affects all children, whether they experience a parent’s divorce, move, or are adopted.
Parents who want a script for these conversations frequently ask me for one. Sadly, there is no one correct response. Being open to the conversation is the best we as parents can do.
GRIEF JENGA IS A TOOL I USE TO GET KIDS TALKING I use play therapy when kids come to me for psychotherapy. “Grief Jenga” is one of my favorite instruments. I use colorful stickers on blocks or color-coded blocks. A prompt is represented by each sticker. Purple might represent something you don’t understand, crimson could represent something you miss, and green could represent a pleasant recollection. You respond to the prompt as you take out the block.
This practice is effective because it encourages children to express ideas that would not normally come to the forefront of their minds. Additionally, the fact that the child and caregiver are switching off shows that you are also dealing with your loss. A parent is nearly always also grieving when a child is.
Parents and children experience grief in different ways. It’s challenging to parent while grieving. But it’s acceptable to let your kids witness your grieving process. They can observe you cry or be enraged. Make sure you take care of yourself so that they can see you doing the same.
Keep in mind that children and adults react to bereavement in different ways. They simply exit the situation because their impressionable minds can become overpowered by grief. When you observe a kid playing with pals and running around, you might assume they aren’t grieving. But later that day, they’ll probably enter that grief. Children deal with grief by moving in and out of it.
Though initially crippling, grief should eventually become more manageable. It’s time to seek counseling if things get worse. Counseling is not necessary for all grieving children, but I do advise it for those who have suffered a traumatic or unexpected loss or the passing of their primary caregiver. Adults frequently require it when navigating the grief of convoluted or ambiguous relationships, such as when lamenting a miscarriage or an ex’s passing.
We may each assist the other in overcoming grief one discussion at a time by talking about it.