Everyone faces grief at some point in their lives due to tragic situations that arise. Grief may be more difficult for young children and teens to cope with as they have less experience in this area. Helping children overcome grief when tragedies strike is part of a parent’s responsibility. Parents can also turn to professional grief counseling for situations beyond their control.
Grief has often been described as having overwhelming feelings of pain and sadness triggered by a tragic incident that happens in people’s lives. For children and teens, such tragedies could range from a sudden death in the family to diagnosis of a terminal illness, loss of a close friend, loss of a beloved pet, an unexpected divorce which breaks up the family, etc.
Grief is manifested in different ways. Children who are normally happy and communicative may become withdrawn and quiet. Grief may cause some children and teens to lose their appetite or make it difficult for them to sleep. Others express little interest in returning to their daily routine such as attending school, playing with friends or entering in on family activities. In extreme cases, grief could even rob a person of their desire to live.
Tragedies affect children in different ways. No two children are exactly the same when it comes to coping with the loss of someone they love. Some children or teens take weeks or months (or longer) to come out of the mourning stage while others seem to get over their pain in a matter of days. During this time, children will need parental support, patience and understanding.
By learning more about the grieving process, parents can help their kids make it through the pain and suffering they are experiencing as a result of their loss. Children often need help in resolving tragic situations that happen in their lives in order to find closure. They need to know that their pain and suffering will not last forever. Older kids and teens may be harboring feelings of guilt or responsibility for the tragedy; these feelings need to be confronted and dispelled so their hearts can heal and they can move on with their lives.
Is Grieving Normal?
Parents should understand that grief is a natural emotional reaction to life’s tragedies. There’s nothing wrong with grieving over a personal loss. In fact, grieving can actually help your children and teens cope with personal tragedies by giving them an avenue to express their feelings and find emotional healing.
Some children heal slower than others, which may make it more difficult for them to enter into family gatherings and festivities long after the tragedy has passed. Time is a great healer. As a parent, your patience, love and support can do much to help your kids make it through this difficult time in their lives.
With support of family and friends, your child will eventually show signs of healing and begin to let go of his sorrow and pain. Long term grief is not healthy for children or teens, as it means they are focusing only on their loss rather than looking outward to the future. Children who continue in a sorrowful state long after the tragedy has passed may need professional grief counseling to help them move on.
Five Stages of Grief
In 1969, Swiss-American psychiatrist and author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross introduced her theory on the five stages of grief in her new book On Grief and Grieving. Since that time, these stages have been the topic of discussion by many in the medical profession. While some people have found these stages helpful in understanding the grieving process, they were not meant to be a blueprint for everyone to follow.
Some people may go through one or more of these stages before finding closure to their grief while others may bypass these stages altogether and still heal. In addition, it’s not necessary for grievers to go through these stages in any particular order. Because every loss is different, grieving responses will also differ from one person to another – grieving is as personal and distinctive as the individual.
The following gives a brief summary of the five stages of grief as described by Dr Kubler-Ross in her book:
1. Denial – It’s not uncommon for people to react with disbelief when first confronted with news of a personal tragedy. The shock of hearing bad news may be difficult for your children or teens to accept in the beginning. Once the news has had time to settle, however, they should begin to accept the facts.
2. Anger – Sometimes denial turns into anger upon hearing about a personal loss. Your children or teens may resort to angry outbursts as a means of expressing their shock or displeasure concerning the situation. Although it’s common for people to become angry under these circumstances, not everyone passes through this stage.
3. Bargaining – When it comes to a terminal illness, many people resort to bargaining with God for extra time or healing. Children may try to make a deal with God in exchange for His help or intervention. Bargaining doesn’t usually apply once a loved one has died as most people don’t have the faith to believe that their loved one can be raised from the dead.
4. Depression – Grieving could turn into long term depression if sorrow doesn’t subside. Some common symptoms of depression include lack of motivation, continual sadness, lack of sleep or hunger and inability to focus on daily tasks. Although grief is a natural response to a personal tragedy, depression is not. If your child shows signs of clinical depression, he or she may need to receive professional treatment.
5. Acceptance – This last stage entails accepting the tragedy and learning to cope with its repercussions. Acceptance can help children and teens find peace and healing so they can continue with their lives.
Your kids deserve to experience the joy and happiness of living, despite tragedies in their lives. As difficult as it may be, tragedies can help to develop a child’s inner strength and character. Acceptance is a step forward in helping your child overcome tragic situations and moving on with his or her life.
Recovering from Grief
Although grieving is a natural emotional reaction, parents can make it easier for their children by helping them cope with their feelings. Children and teens need to find ways to express their grief so as not to keep sad, mournful emotions inside. Some children find it helpful to talk about their feelings with someone they trust. Others may find comfort in meditation, prayer, music, artwork or writing about their experience.
It’s good for your kids to stay active and involved in their daily routine after a tragedy as it takes their mind off their sorrow and helps them get back on track with their lives. Although grieving can be healthy for a children or teens in that it helps them to handle the pain of losing someone they love, there comes a time when your children need to let go of the past and continue into the future. As a parent, you play a key role in encouraging your kids to look past the pain and sorrow of the moment and move on. Here are some helpful tips on how to accomplish this purpose:
- Give your child ample support
- Help older children and teens connect with their faith
- Encourage teens to talk to a grief counselor or join a support group
- Plan for and protect your kids from grief “triggers”
- Look after your kids physical health and well being
- Don’t judge or embarrass your kids about their feelings
- Don’t try to “push” your kids into healing
Numerous quotes and poems have been written about grief, which have been a comfort to many in their time of need. The following are but a few:
When a loved one becomes but a memory, this memory transforms into a treasure. – Author unknown
The difficulty today in seeing beyond your sorrow will one day be a memory that comforts you tomorrow. – Author unknown
Grief has a language of its own – your tears. – Voltaire
Grief that’s kept locked up inside increases pain. – Anne Grant
If our tears could make a stairway and our memories form a lane, I would walk straightway to Heaven and bring you back home again. – Author unknown
Tears are not a sign of weakness, but of power. Their speech is more eloquent than 10,000 tongues. . . They convey a message of indescribable love. – Washington Irving
While we mourn our friend’s loss on earth, others rejoice to greet him beyond the veil. – John Taylor
As a parent, you never know when tragedy will strike nor how it will affect your children. Your advanced knowledge of how to handle these situations and the grief that may result could be of great comfort to you and your family when you need it most.