5 Ways to Help a Child Cope With Grief

March 29th, 2010by Jessi Arias-Cooper

As parents, we want to protect our children from everything. Unfortunately, there is a whole world of life experience out there that we can’t control.

One of the most difficult situations that every child faces eventually is grief. Grief can be the result of many events such as the loss of a family member, friend or pet, separation or divorce of parents, or a move to an unfamiliar town.

No matter what the cause of your child’s grief may be, his pain is real. He needs your support and wisdom now more than ever. At times like this, it can be hard to know how to help your child. Don’t panic if you feel a little lost in the situation, we’ve all been there.

Here are 5 basic ways to help your child cope with grief:

1. Listen and Share – It is very important that your child always knows he has your ear, especially now. Take the time to listen to what he has to say and encourage him to be open. Share a similar experience you had, how it made you feel, and how you got through it. In the event that your son’s grief stemmed from the loss of a person or pet, let him know that you are sad, too. You have to be strong for your child, but he also has to know that he’s not alone. Nothing feels worse when you are grieving than feeling like you are the only one that feels that way.

2. Reassure Him That This Is Not His Fault – Human nature often leads all of us to believe that there was something more that we could have done to prevent a situation. Adults have the capacity to reason through it and know, despite what our heart tells us, that sometimes, bad things happen and there is nothing that we could have done to stop it. Children simply are not wired that way.

If a child feels that he is somehow responsible for the event, he can harbor unimaginable pain, guilt and anger. If your son expresses that he feels guilty about what happened, it is of the utmost importance that you explain that you understand how he feels, but that it was absolutely not his fault.

3. Answer Question Honestly – Your child has questions. This is a time for sincerity and honesty, even if it’s hard. Children are still children and a little sugar-coating may be appropriate (some blunt realities are too heavy for young minds), but the bottom line should be straightforward and honest. Open concepts like “Grandma went on a long trip” may be a short term fix to the tears, but after a while, your child is going to want grandma to return, and when he finds out the truth, you risk the loss of his trust and respect.

4. Watch His Behavior – Grief, depression and stress can cause drastic behavior changes. Keep an eye on your child’s behavior. Early on, sadness, anger and confusion are common, expected and completely normal. If it has been 4 weeks since the event happened and your son still refuses to leave your side, this may be a red flag that he is still having an extremely hard time coping with the situation.

Pay close attention to long-term displays of the following behavior: nightmares, withdrawal, anger, separation anxiety, and behavior that would commonly be displayed by children younger than his age. If you are seeing a consistent pattern of these behaviors, you may want to consider professional assistance.

5. Find Positive Diversions – It is very easy for both adults and children to settle into a grief induced shut-down mode. Isolation isn’t good for anyone, especially a grieving child. Help him find ways to occupy his body and mind. Encourage physical activity or artful expression. You may meet some initial resistance, but in the long run, it will work wonders for him. Play with him at the park. Buy him a new art set. Help him get back into the things he enjoyed before this crisis hit.

As parents, there are times when we wish we could push a fast-forward button and move past painful and uncomfortable situations. Much to our collective chagrin, this isn’t an option. Openness, honesty and support are the key components to helping your child cope with grief.

Actively responding to your child’s sadness with the proper love and care, will strengthen your relationship and prevent ongoing hardships related to the event. While these situations are difficult to handle, they are also opportunities for your family to grow closer as a unit.

Jessi Arias-Cooper is a work from home mother of 3 boys and has been married for 10 years. She co-owns a freelance writing business, Profitable Prose, with her husband, Brock.  If she had time for hobbies and interests outside of parenting and keeping house, they would be jewelry making, baking, watching bad B-movie horror flicks and creative writing.

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