As a parent, it’s painful to watch your child experience hurts and disappointments. Even though you would like to spare your child from difficulty, it’s not possible to keep him/her from the cruel realities of life. During childhood, your child will experience typical losses, such as losing a pet, being separated from loved ones, moving, or being excluded from a birthday party. Sometimes, a child can experience very deep hurts, resulting in great pain and suffering.
If you try to protect your child from all pain and loss, he/she will not be prepared to face difficult situations as adults. It’s better to allow your child to feel emotions and work through pain and loss when the issues are not serious. As parents, you are there to provide comfort and support during these times and help your child develop coping skills that will help in adulthood.
When we think of bigger losses, we typically think of death, illness, and divorce. But there are other types of painful changes experienced by children and families. Any kind of change can create a feeling of loss, but some losses are more intense than others, causing an adult or child to feel grief. Grief, a deep sadness or sorrow, is one of life’s most painful experiences.
When loss occurs, all members of a family are affected, whether directly or indirectly. A child experiences grief as intensely as adults, but often do not have words to express his/her feelings. A child can begin to act out during times of grief, so it is important to observe your child’s behavior and watch for signs of deep sorrow. Even if there are unspoken feelings in the home, children, including infants, can sense deep sadness.
Parents often become consumed with their own needs during the grieving process and lack the energy to comfort and support their child. A child can become the object of adult frustration and tension and grieving can alter the normal functioning of a family. When there is a lack of parent attention, as well as changes in routines and schedules, a child can become fearful of the future.
The Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, identified 5 distinct stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Children and adults go through these five stages in the grieving process, following a loss. The way an individual moves through the stages and the length of time it takes depends on the person.
Below is a chart detailing the most common responses of children and adults to grief. These behaviors are normal, but if they become too intense or last too long, one should seek professional help. It generally takes an adult or child an average of 2 years to recover from a loss. Again, it depends on the individual.
It is important to recognize your child’s pain and find ways to support and comfort him/her in times of grief. Below are some suggestions to assist you in helping your child process a loss. • Take care of yourself as a parent.
• Communicate with your child. Instead of avoiding a discussion, provide an honest explanation as to what is happening. Only give information that meets the child’s level of understanding.
• Read developmentally appropriate books that will deal with an issue, such as death, moving, or divorce.
• Provide your child with ways of expressing himself/herself through play, story writing, Play-‐ Doh, puppets, or drawing.
• Be available to spend one-‐on-‐one time with your child. Play, laugh, or share an activity or hobby together.
• Give lots of love and affection, such as hugging, holding, and soothing.
• Keep a stable, predictable environment by keeping normal routines, such as mealtimes, bedtimes, school schedules, or activities.
• Maintain family rituals and traditions, such as a movie night, pizza night, holidays, and birthdays.
• Develop an outside support system by connecting with caregivers, extended relatives or friends.
• Maintain consistent guidelines and limits to maintain a feeling of safety for a child.
• Reduce outside stress.
• Be sensitive and patient. Seek help from a professional who can provide the resources to help your child and family if the grieving process seems abnormally long or intense.
The professionals below can provide help as needed.
Professional counselor or therapist
Minister, priest, rabbi
Parent Education Groups
Remind your child how much God loves him/her and that He sees and understands his/her sadness. A grieving child needs to be told often that he/she is loved and valued. Assure him/her that you are there to provide protection and security during this time. Your child will need to have abundant nurture and affection from you.
Try Something New
Talk with your child about God’s faithfulness. Teach your child to go to God’s Word for help. Pray with your child about the things that concern him/her. Memorize verses together to remind each another of God’s care.
Verses for Encouragement
God understands our broken hearts.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
God is our help.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. ( Psalms 46:1)
Do not be afraid.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
Don’t worry. Pray.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.