When death or divorce hits your family, you are overwhelmed with emotions of sadness, fear, and anger.
And the truth is, so are your children—though they may process this grief in different ways.
Here are 4 tips to help you move through this traumatic time for your child with love and openness.
1. Talk about their feelings.
Depending on your child’s age, they may or may not be able to verbalize their emotions. Instead, they may be expressed as behaviors—and chances are, they won’t be positive ones either!
As much as possible, refrain from addressing the negative behaviors, and instead, focus immediately on the emotion behind it.
Use phrases such as:
- “That kind of behavior is something you don’t usually do. It sounds like you’re angry about something. What’s making you feel that way?
- “It sounds like you’re very tired or sad. It’s okay to feel that way. What’s making you feel sad right now?”
- “You feel so mad right now! It’s okay to be mad. I’m right here while you feel like this.”
2. Express your emotions in healthy ways.
It’s vital for each member to know they can grieve openly. Grieving together is one of the most powerful ways children and adults can process and heal from the experience.
As an adult, you can lead the way. Don’t feel as though you have to hide your tears. Cry together!
When your child sees and hears you expressing and verbalizing, you’ll be giving them the exact tools they need to do the same!
3. Make sure they know they are not responsible for these life-changing events.
You can tell your children directly, “It’s not your job to take care of an adult. It’s the adult’s job to take care of the kids. So if you would like to, we can talk about any feelings you have.”
Now, if a child does something kind to cheer you up, that’s beautiful. Always express gratitude for their thoughtfulness. Just be aware that some children may try to control the emotions of the home by these behaviors. Simply be willing to notice the difference and talk about it if needed.
4. Keep a routine.
As much as possible, keep a predictable routine for the children so that they don’t feel as anxious and fearful. Their routine can give them a sense of security.
At the same time, also know when to have a little fun and spontaneity! Say something like, “I know we always go to bed at 8pm, but tonight we’re doing something special. We’re having a movie night with popcorn!”
5. Be age-appropriately honest.
When it comes to death, it’s important to use clear words. Say “Grandma died” instead of “Grandma crossed over” or “Grandma went to sleep/heaven” — which are abstract phrases, and they will cause more fear and uncertainty in your child.
When it comes to divorce, it’s important to share only the objective facts that affect the children. It’s inappropriate to share any dirty details or badmouth their other parent. Children should not be expected to carry emotional weight like that.
Children only want to know two things:
1. That they will still have their mom and dad.
2. That they are still loved by their mom and dad.
Continue to reassure your child about both of these things and tell them how true they will always be—no matter what!
What Not To Do During This Time:
You’re going to feel overwhelmed already, so don’t take on more than you need to!
- Don’t worry about having all the answers. It’s okay to say, “That’s a good question. Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
- Don’t try to do Proxy Work. In my opinion, it’s rough to do proxy work for these very intense scenarios. Instead, do Figure 8’s and Energy Sketching with your children (both of which I teach in The Carol Tuttle Healing Center).
- Don’t be afraid of stepping into happiness. Even during dark times, you’ll still experience positive moments. Instead of feeling guilty, embrace it! And allow that lightness to spread out to your children.
What was the most helpful thing you experienced, either as a child or a parent, when you experienced death or divorce? I would love to hear your stories in the comments.
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