How to comfort, love, and speak with those who suffer is important for every person to know (especially a parent). Loss, whether of a grandparent, a child’s parents’ marriage, or even a pet touches every child at some point in time and I hope to help you today by sharing my own personal experience of loss and parenting through grief as well as some resources and ideas for helping children grieve.
In 2009, my world was broken apart when two weeks after a “perfect” 20 week ultrasound of my second son, I found myself lying still in a hospital bed trying to hold back contractions that would not stop, unable to stop my body from birthing a son that did not have a chance to live. He was born, and I held him and felt his heart beat against mine for a few moments of life until he died in my arms.
I went home to my older little boy who was still really a baby himself at only eighteen months. And, he still needed me.
We had a lot of behavior problems with my child around that time. He was a difficult baby who cried quite a bit still. Beyond his normal fussiness, my child responded to the home’s emotional stress by frequent tantrums combined with biting and hitting.
I Get It, parenting through grief is hard, and it is lonely.
Since then, we have been blessed with another child, a little girl, and the dark time of early grief is over. We have also experienced the true love of God and comforting truths of a perfect new world where we will be able to touch and hold our child again. But still, our family including the children will never “get over it”. Even though my son was young when his brother died, he now is growing older and more aware of his loss. Sometimes, he will tell me how he wishes his brother was here. And, he always will miss the friend and playmate that he lost. I can’t fix that for him. Our family will always feel that missing part of who we are.
I try to make that grief easier for him by providing an environment that naturally allows him to express his sense of loss and positively use his grief to make the world a better place. I don’t profess to be an expert on how to help children through grief, but here is a list of ten practical suggestions for parenting through grief from what I have learned through my own loss and from conversations with others. If you are reading this and have more advice, I would love for you to share your ideas in the comment section.
- Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to babysit occasionally, so that you can take time to journal, pray, or attend a local support group.
- Don’t be embarrassed to get help if needed, whether from a counselor, pastor, or doctor.
- Surround yourself with people who understand and will listen by joining local and online support networks.
Expect behavior problems and regressions in milestones such as potty training and night time sleeping. Instead of punishing your children, find positive ways to help them channel their emotions (see below for some ideas.)
Give your children a sense of security by trying to maintain your normal rules and routine as much as possible.
Talk to your children in simple, concrete terms. Avoid terms that could be misunderstood such as “asleep” or “passed away”. Young children may also have trouble understanding the permanency of death.
Provide comfort objects for your children, such as a blanket or soft object that belonged to or reminds them of the one they lost.
Reassure your children. Kids often worry that they caused the death, whether by a unkind action or thought or just by not doing enough to help the deceased. Children may also be frightened by the realization that other people they love could die too.
Fill your life with peaceful reminders of the loved one.
- Place photos and symbolic reminders around the home and yard.
- Remembrance jewelry makes lovely gifts for older children. (You can find so many beautiful pieces of jewelry on Etsy and in boutique shops. Even “Big Box” stores such as Walmart sell special order jewelry that you can personalize with a name and photo.)
- Create an “I Remember” book (see Living Montessori NOW for directions).
Add a special touch to the holidays and anniversaries.
- On our baby’s birthday, we take little gifts from the children such as toy cars and place them on his grave. We also still make a birthday cake and invite the family over for a special time to remember our child. Other ideas would be releasing balloons for each year that the person has been gone.
- For Christmas, we have special ornaments that we allow the children to place on the tree in memory of our child. Other families we know light special candles through the Advent season in memories of lost family members.
- For Easter, we made special “Memory Eggs” and a Resurrection Garden.
Let children process their grief through activities and crafts. In addition to the activities mentioned previously you could:
- Make garden stones.
- Plant a tree or flowering shrub.
- Read books about death together.
Show your children how to positively channel grief.
- Donate to a related cause. We help collect blankets, prayer shawls, and infant outfits for our local hospital. I also give my son money to drop in the Children’s Hospital donation box at the store when we shop.
- Help others who have experienced loss. Some of my best conversations about death and our family have been when my child observes me weeping about another lost baby or searching for a card or gift for a bereaved mother.
- Marnie at Carrots Are Orange writes about Kids & Grief from her perspective of losing her father as a child.
- Heather Cahoon at Word Play House beautifully shares how she made a special time to talk about and remember a lost loved one with her children.
- Andie at Crayon Freckles shares how she used the death of a butterfly to explain death to her young child in concrete, simple terms.
- This article at Journey of Hearts is full of practical suggestions and reminders for dealing with grieving children.
- I didn’t have time to read Guiding Your Child Through Grief, but this book looked like an extremely helpful guide for a parents wanting to understand the psychological nature of children’s grief.
- Anglique Felix gives three concrete bits of advice for explaining death to a young child.
- Play Dr. Mom has a wonderful list of books to help children grieve.
If you are parenting through grief, you are not alone. Find support and take one day at a time. If you need additional resources or just want to tell me your story, you are always welcome to leave me a comment or write me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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