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CIS Grief It Out

Grief it out!

Being impacted by grief during the pandemic has become commonplace. The grieving process is generally explained as the outward display of feelings over a significant loss, leading to a limited understanding when it comes to helping a grieving child/person. The grief experience is very unique for each person. Loss is not limited to death. It varies from the loss of time, space, a relationship, loss of celebrations, to even the loss of a misplaced object.  Children and teenagers are still developing their capacities to understand and cope with loss from the death of a loved one. Adults may also be unprepared to deal with their own responses to death, making it hard to cope with what the children and teens close to them are going through.  Here are some tips to help you and your family manage the sometimes confusing process of grief.

Honesty: Children usually ask questions out of curiosity about something they don’t understand. As an adult, two important things you can do is to let them know that asking questions is okay, and to answer their questions truthfully. No child wants to hear a clinical answer nor be lied to. It can be hard for parents to be direct immediately after death. When explaining what happened to a child, using concrete words such as “died” or “killed” instead of vague terms like “passed away” can help a child understand the significance of the loss better. A young child may expect that a deceased significant other will return or simply needs to be found. 

Providing choice in closure: Children appreciate having a choice as much as adults do, and don’t like to be left out. It is a meaningful and important experience for children to have the opportunity to say goodbye to the deceased in a way that feels right to them. They can be included in selecting clothing, flowers, or the ceremony itself. This enables them to see how valued the person was and know that grieving is acceptable. Sometimes children in the same family will choose to grieve differently. One child may want pictures of the deceased, while another may feel uncomfortable with many reminders around. As a parent, ask your child what they are comfortable with. Should they choose not to participate, invite them to create their own commemorative ritual or activity for saying goodbye which could range from lighting a candle to planting a tree?

Unique grief: As children could grieve differently from their parents and siblings, it is important to listen to expressions of feelings and observe behaviour of your children to help clarify and affirm the natural differences. Younger children may be clingy, whereas teens may prefer to spend time on their own or with peers. Recognizing and respecting that each child grieves in their own way is essential to the healing process for a family. 

Being non-judgemental: To help children regain a sense of safety, balance, and control, one of the things we can do is listen and validate their experiences without judgement, evaluation, or fixing. Well-meaning adults often try to comfort a child with phrases such as, “I know just how you feel,” or, worse, advice such as “get over it” or “move on.” Despite clear intentions, using such responses negate the child’s own experiences and feelings. Reflecting back on what you have heard and using open-ended questions helps children to be open to sharing their feelings. 

In and out of grief: Children may be more inclined to play and divert their focus from death when it is recent and parents are grieving intensely. More than adults, children need time to take a break from grief. It is important to know that it’s okay to take a break. Having fun or laughing is not disrespectful to the person who died; this is a vital part of grieving too.

As adults take the time to be aware of how the loss is impacting you as well.  Sometimes, grief can be overwhelming.  If you feel like you or your child needs support to process grief please do feel free to reach out to one of us on the counseling team.