by Keith Swartzendruber/ January 19, 2016
My earliest memory of grief was the diagnosis of my mom with breast cancer. I was five years old. All that I knew at the time was the overwhelming feeling of being shaken and challenged. I felt a combination of emotions—loss, fear, doubt, confusion, and instability. Those emotions came to a climax with the loss of my mom at the age of 14.
Throughout my family’s battle with my mother’s illness and death, I recognized that my parents and family coped the best they possibly could. They sought to help me manage the mourning process properly. However, my experience with grief at a young age has helped me realize that parents and adults are often at a loss when helping children navigate through the grieving process.
Below I have listed three basic ways to help parents be better prepared for helping young children deal with loss.
1. The truth is always the best. Many times well-meaning adults and parents cause added damage to the grief process by not telling the truth. Children do not think abstractly. They can only use concrete thinking to reason. Telling a child that Jesus took Grandma up to the sky may cause the child to look for Grandma on the rooftop. Or the child may wonder if she is in an airplane that flies overhead. A youngster may feel anger against Jesus for taking Grandmother away. Give your child basic simple truths that help them understand. For example, “Grandma’s body stopped working and she is now in heaven. Heaven is a great place to be.”
2. Include the child. Oftentimes our first response is to shield children by not including them in the grieving process. This can cause children to feel unimportant and hinder healing. Instead, give them an option to participate in the funeral. If they do choose to participate, prepare them for what they may experience.
3. Help your child deal with emotions. Times of loss cause many, many emotions. A child’s emotional development is often incapable of managing these feelings. We, as mature adults, must prepare ourselves to help them process these emotions. Start by being patient in answering all of their questions. Use stories or fables to help a child understand the difficult emotions. Allow time to process and remain supportive.
During times of loss, it is important to constantly reassure your child of the hope we have in God. The hope that we can spend eternity with God and our loved ones reassures your child of God’s goodness and grace. These simple truths will help support your child while navigating through grief and loss. Such truths will last a lifetime.