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talking to your child about loss

As parents, we try to protect our children from the harmful or scary things in life. We fight monsters under the bed and cover eyes during scary movie scenes, but there comes a time when we cannot protect our children from the pain of loss. Many things can create the feelings of loss and grief in a child - the death of a pet, a divorce, the loss of a family member - and parents might wonder how they can support their children through this tough time. We sat down with Reverend Becky McDaniel, Stuart Hall School chaplain, to discuss a few important things to remember when talking about loss with your child.  

  • Take care of yourself first. If your child is experiencing grief and loss, it is likely that you are as well. Remember to take time for yourself in addition to supporting your child. You cannot be the caregiver he/she needs, if you withdraw or suppress your feelings.
  • Create a physical “safe place” where emotions can be expressed. Whether it is a special chair or a bench outside, select a space where your child can express his/her emotions. Even if you think your child might not be suppressing his/her feelings, make the safe space. You might be surprised at what he/she might be willing to share in a safe environment.
  • Realize that you cannot take the pain away. This can be particularly hard for parents. Our natural reaction in these situations is to tell our child that “Everything will be alright.” But he/she needs to experience all of the stages of loss, including pain. Instead of trying to take the pain away, let he/she know that it is alright to feel hurt.
  • Support your child through mind, body, and spirit. Grief impacts the whole person. You may notice that your child is more distracted in school or less active at home. Find ways to support him/her -  mind, body, and spirit. Maybe encourage your child to participate in yoga or go for a walk outside. Either way, physical activity is a great way to refocus your thoughts, and provides reflective time to work through feelings.
  • Recognize when you might need more help. Everyone processes grief differently so it might be hard to tell if your child is being “normal” during this time. If you start to notice that your child is withdrawn and no longer interested in his/her favorite things, it might be time to seek help. Talk with a school counselor, minister, or family doctor who may be able to recommend other resources that can help your child.
Throughout all of this, it is important to realize you are not alone. You can find support in your school, church, or community. For more helpful information on talking with children about loss, you can visit the Hospice website.