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How to talk to kids about grief was written by Katie Rössler, a licensed counselor and grief healer. She’s a featured guest contributor to the Homeschool Bundle + the Create Your Homeschool Blog! Enjoy!
I have learned so much about grief over the last two years, especially from my kids. See, I am a licensed therapist and though I was familiar with grief in my own life and in my clients’ lives, it wasn’t until I went on a grief journey with my daughters that I started to see grief differently.
My oldest daughter came into the bathroom crying when she was five years old. She told me she missed her grandmother. I was so shocked inside. She was four when my mom died, and though my daughter asked a lot of questions after she died, I had totally disregarded that she had her own grief journey which would take time. I was caught up in my own loss and never thought to check-in more with her about what she was experiencing.
As she cried and I held her, I realized that her grief process was so pure and exactly how it should be: feel, express, ask, process, breathe, and then move forward.
She never said, “Oh, I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t like crying. I’m going to go do something else so I don’t think about it.” She didn’t apologize for crying in front of me. She sat with it.
Here we are now in 2020, and people all over the world are grieving. They are discovering grief isn’t just about death and loss. It shows up when we have adjustments to new situations, anticipation of what will be next, and changes in roles in life. Grief is actually a normal part of our lives, but we tend to avoid it so much that we have stopped recognizing what we are experiencing as grief.
Well, again, it’s 2020, and so many people are realizing they can no longer run from grief. It’s time to look at it differently. With this, comes the question: How do we talk to our kids about grief? If we as adults tend to struggle with grief, how do we help our kids handle it better so they can learn healthy ways to handle all the emotions that come with grief?
| Related: 3 simple ways to teach gratitude all year
Here are a few key tips that I want to share with you so that you feel a little more prepared to talk with your kids about grief:
Kid’s grief shows up as tantrums, extreme anger, random crying, regression, and reactiveness.
Kids don’t always have words for grief, so it’s important that you notice these reactions and connect the dots to what changes or struggles they may be going through.
I have noticed kids as early as three years old grieving, so don’t be surprised if you notice your young child grieving. Creating art and building things (think legos) together are great ways to get your kids talking about it all. It’s a bit of a secret weapon therapists use to get our younger clients talking. Color for about five minutes and you’ll notice they start talking much easier because their defensive wall comes down. (Hint: This works for adults too!)
Remember that it’s ok to not have all the answers to the “why” questions.
You are allowed to say “I don’t know” or “Let’s learn together.” Especially with what is going on in the world right now, most parents don’t have answers. We have not failed at our jobs by telling them we are unsure.
Questions like “Will I die one day too?” or “Why do people die?” can leave us speechless. Start thinking about how you would like to answer these questions now so you are ready when they come (if they haven’t already).
Be mindful of your actions when their questions trigger an uncomfortable emotion.
Do you notice when your kids ask tough questions, you get uncomfortable and maybe even more impatient with them? I find this happens to me when they ask questions in public spaces or they strike a chord with an emotion I don’t want to feel at that time.
That’s about our issues, not there’s, so be mindful if you feel triggered. It’s ok to say “Can we talk about this later when we are in the car/at home/or a different time today?” You are allowed to put up a boundary when you don’t feel emotionally prepared to talk. If they don’t understand, you can remind them there are times when they don’t want to talk about something.
Make sure you tell them when you will talk about it and stick with that time to help with consistency and trust.
Grief isn’t something we have to be so uncomfortable with, but it means going on our own grief journey. It also means that as parents we honor and respect our child’s process of grieving, and we teach and model for them positive ways to express emotions and thoughts during challenging times.
Whether grief has hit you because of a loss, a move, big changes in your family, or anticipating what is next in such uncertain times, you can work as a family to grieve together creating a stronger bond.
If you are interested in more information on how to talk to your kids about grief, I wrote an eBook with support videos for kids and parents that can be found here.
The eBook covers the phases of grief for kids, typical questions they ask about death, moving, family changes, and major events happening in our world, and appropriate ways to answer based on age group (preschoolers, grade-schoolers, and teens).
The videos teach the kids, based on their age group, coping skills they can use on a daily basis and provide support to parents and caregivers who may need more ideas and support.
Lastly, it provides a list of books and videos to talk with your kids about grief, again based on age group. This resource teaches you what I have taught clients, but also what I have experienced as a mom as well.
Let grief be a normal and healthy experience in your home.
The tips I’ve shared and the free eBook resource will help you take steps forward to building the emotional intelligence of your kids and strengthen communication in your home.
2020 will be a year we all remember, and I hope it’s a year we can all look back at that helped us grow in immeasurable ways.
Wouldn’t that be something to be grateful for?