Helping Your Children Grieve

I originally wrote this post for my Ukrainian friends with the help of a friend who had been trained by the Grief Recovery Institute. The suggestions are borrowed or adapted from many of their suggestions.

Your children may never have a friend or loved one die. There are other things, however, that can cause children to grieve. They will grieve leaving their home in a move or natural disaster. They will grieve because they no longer see their friends. They will grieve for missing a familiar school, activities, church….the things they are used to in life.

There are many things they will be grieving, but they won’t use that term. Just rest assured that much of the sadness you see is part of the grief they are experiencing. Here are some tips to use when you think your child may be grieving.

1. Allow your children to mourn, realizing that each of your children may mourn in very different ways.

2. Listen to their lamentations as they mourn the things they have lost.

3. Comfort them, but don’t discourage them from crying or tell them to stop crying. Your sons need to cry as much as your daughters.

4. Recognize that grief is emotional, not intellectual. You cannot reason away grief.

5. Don’t feel the need to analyze or critique their emotions in the moment. Just actively listen.

6. As mentioned before, don’t force your children to talk, but give them opportunities to talk. Be patient as the grief may come out a little bit at a time over a longer period than you might think.

7. Don’t tell your children they shouldn’t feel the emotions they are feeling. Remember emotions aren’t wrong or sinful…it’s only the ways we choose to act on those emotions that can become sinful in some cases.

8. Again, instead of asking how they are feeling, ask them to name the emotions they are feeling and rank them in strength.

9. It is okay to show your own emotions within reason. They need to know it is okay to cry. If you are about to have an out of control emotional melt down, however, that can be very frightening to children who are already frightened. Try to show them authentic emotion that is not out of control.

10. Try not to compare your children to each other or other children in how they are grieving.

11. Avoid trying to soothe a child with cookies or other similar things that could become a bad habit over time.

12. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

13. Remember that just because a child isn’t showing outward signs of grieving, it doesn’t mean the child is grief free. Some children try to grieve in silence.

14. Remember that children hear and understand more of adult conversation than you realize. They can also hear and misunderstand things that make things seem worse than they really are. Be careful about the things you say that they may hear.

15. Grief can come and go in waves. That is normal. If your child shows signs of extreme sadness for more than a couple of weeks, it may be a good idea to talk to a doctor.

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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