When your child experiences the loss of a loved one – whether a grandparent, parent, sibling, friend, or teacher – they can become detached from their feelings, in a sense, out of time. The worst has happened, and, in their mind, nothing can restore a state of normalcy.
Since bereavement is a particular kind of grief and not a mental disorder, children do not recover from it. To try is a waste of energy impacted by a sense of failure; it is more a process of adapting.
Your child now must learn to relive without their loved one. Following this destruction of the original self, a new self develops – one who will always be in pain but does not have to suffer… as suffering is contraction against the pain. The approach is to allow your child to grieve, to have their pain, and to surrender to it.
Over time, your child integrates the loved one into their life. And like a butterfly that sits on their shoulder, they now live on with that loved one’s past, present, and future incorporated and internalized.
The steps of grieving include both an inward and outward adjustment. These stages happen either simultaneously or over time. The process itself is life’s work.
We never sever ties with the people we have loved and lost. We do come, however, to an acceptance of a new reality. Life for your child will never be the same again, but it will continue, and the intense pain will soften as it ebbs and flows over the years. It is the way they are guided through their grief process that will determine the quality of how they will live their life.
Healing through love is the alchemy that moves your child forward toward wholeness. While grieving, you, the parent, should honor and pay attention to their physical, nutritional, and emotional needs. It is vital that they be allowed to express their feelings and be with their grief.
The stages of grief, according to Kubler Ross, are:
- Denial and isolation
It is crucial at this time to create strategies for your child to affect inward and outward healing. Relationships that have been intact up to this point are often threatened and sometimes dissolved with the onset of grief, as your grieving child transfers their feeling of sorrow, inadequacy, and guilt to those relationships.
One of the techniques used here to effect inward healing is analytical therapy – a feedback system used to bring them into conscious awareness. Different children channel their grief in different ways. There is no model of right and wrong except for allowing your child a safe place to grieve.
Grief has its own timing, so they must experience the immensity of the process. You must permit them to live. At first, it is just about getting through the day and realizing that the things that generally define them and their activities are no longer their reality.
Healing begins and ends with the heart. It is a life-long process. When your child experiences the loss of a loved one, their life will never be the same.
Now, you, the parent, must be honest with your grieving child, being mindful of giving information in an age-appropriate manner. Answer their questions and model authenticity for them. Include your child in every stage of decision-making that has to do with their grieving so that they have options and choices, which reasserts their sense of integrity.
How do we help children grieve? You must make sure that:
- Your grieving child gets plenty of rest.
- They should eat a balanced diet.
- They gets plenty of water to drink.
- Their daily routine includes some exercise, but remember that fatigue is often a characteristic of both loss and depression.
- They meets with other children in therapeutic groups such as those offered by the Compassionate Friends. Here your grieving child can stay connected to children who have experienced a similar personal story. By relating to other children in cohesive groups, the grieving child can begin to model successful survival skills.
Your child may need psychoanalytic therapy and medication, so a psychiatrist and pediatrician should be incorporated into a healing time to support them and help them stay healthy while under extreme stress.
Meeting at the edge of this crossroad of life at such a tender age is a wounding that often makes injured children very empathic. Allow your child to attend funerals if them want to go, so that there is a sense of reality and closure to this unthinkable event.
Depending upon your child’s age, there are positive outlets that can help them express their feelings when speaking is too difficult. They should be allowed to participate in the rituals that say goodbye. Encourage your grieving child to express and vent shock, anger, fear, and pain. Caretakers and professionals, as well as teachers and clergy, can all join together to help your child stay connected to life. A grief team of adults can re-establish their trust and support in a dangerous world.
In today’s world, your child has many opportunities to distract themselves from grief and delay healing. Whether it is video games, YouTube, television, or movies, the outcome is the same: a disassociation from feelings. Therefore, it is essential to facilitate opportunities for your child to integrate their feelings of loss so that they can emerge again as individuated.
Sound therapies that connect them to them to observational ego so that they can reflect upon and express their true feelings and sense of who they are can be helped through role-playing, dance therapy, art, singing, and psychotherapy. This helps your child release the psychological blocks that have thrown them back to an earlier, more primitive stage of development.
These strategies bring to consciousness the trauma and help the child sort out their feelings. It is only through this reconnection of the child to their center that allows for healing.
The emotional energy of grief can transcend and, by transcending, be transformed into life. Joy and vitality can be expressed creatively when the energy used to repress trauma and injury is released.
Children who grieve can live again and, by grieving, move through the paralysis of despair and the empty void of helplessness, through the journey toward wholeness.