By Tenille Bentley
Last week, our pet rabbit, which we’ve had for six years, suddenly died. My daughter was really close to her pet and I expected her to cry uncontrollably and possibly get extremely depressed. But, on the contrary, she didn’t appear sad at all to me. She behaved as she normally did, occasionally glancing towards the rabbit cage but nothing that showed me that she was upset. As her mother, I was so relieved to see her reaction that I almost overlooked how she had started sucking her thumb once again and there were a couple of nights when she wet her bed shortly after our rabbit’s death.
That’s when I began to understand that children’s grief may not always look like the way we expect it to and that it may be very different to the way an adult would grieve. And, although we can’t protect our children from life’s tragedies such as loss of loved ones, we can help them learn how to cope and manage their grief.
As her mother, I was so relieved to see her reaction that I almost overlooked how she had started sucking her thumb once again and there were a couple of nights when she wet her bed shortly after our rabbit’s death.
Give your child time and space
Everyone has a different way of grieving and surely, the healing process happens over time. It is important to allow your child to express their emotions in a healthy way only when they are ready to do so. It is quite possible that they are not able to express their feelings through words just yet and may show tantrums, anger, outbursts or even excessive laughter. Assure them that it is perfectly fine to feel these feelings and even better to express them to someone they think will understand.
Encourage them to express their feelings
Since many children are not yet equipped with language related to emotions, encourage them to read books related to death with you to get a better understanding, draw pictures, make a scrapbook of old photos or even tell stories. This will be a great way to let out their emotions in a healthy manner.
Stick to routines
When grief strikes, it becomes very challenging to keep things normal for yourself and your children. One of the ways you can do this is by sticking to your regular routine as much as possible. That might mean having meals at the same time you used to or going to sleep at the same bed time. Although it’s important to grieve the loss of a loved one, it is equally important to understand that life has to go on.
It might seem like a good idea to tell your child that “Great Grandma is a star in the sky now’ or “Great Grandpa is sleeping”, but it will only confuse your children more. So, it’s best to be honest with them by using simple explanations and that when someone dies, they can no longer breathe, eat or move and that death doesn’t go away and is something permanent.
Manage your own feelings
Of course, you want your child’s grief to end quickly but, that’s only possible when you’re able to deal with your own grief in healthy ways. Feel free to acknowledge the pain you feel, cry if you need to in front of them and express your emotions to them so they will learn that grieving is a natural process and that it is possible to manage the grief too.
Tenille Bentley is the founder of The Emotional Literacy and Mindfulness Academy For Kids and the author of the children’s emotional literacy series. The Emotional Literacy Academy provides at-home programs to help nurture and develop children’s emotional literacy, building confident and calm children with empathy, compassion and the tools to feel safe with their emotions. You can connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.