Steps for Children Mourning the Loss of a Loved One
Grieving and mourning the loss of a loved one is never an easy process, especially in the midst and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to mourning, feelings of loss and grief can be increasingly difficult for children as the grief process is likely confusing and unfamiliar to them. If your child is grieving and you aren’t quite sure where to begin helping them heal, look no further. We’ve created a guide that outlines the best ways to help a child throughout the grieving and healing process. Read on to learn more about how to support your child when loss occurs in their lives, especially the sorrow and pain of the significant loss of loved ones.
Understanding and Explaining Grief and Mourning to Children
When young children experience major loss, grief and mourning are typically quick to follow. Before you begin helping your child heal and move through their feelings, it is important that they understand what they are feeling and why they are feeling that way.
Grief is a normal human emotion that people feel when loss occurs in their life. Essentially, it is an internal emotion that can bounce back and forth from feelings of denial, anger, and depression. With time and the right support, however, each of these emotions can be managed and worked through.
Mourning, on the other hand, is the outward expression of intense feelings of grief. Oftentimes mourning and grief are used interchangeably, however, it is important to note the internal and external difference between the two.
When explaining these two emotional experiences to your child, be sure to remind them that what they are feeling is normal. These are feelings that are shared by anyone who has lost a loved one, and while they don’t necessarily feel comfortable, they will eventually come to an end.
How to Work Through Mourning and Grieving
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating amount of lives lost throughout the world, mourning and grieving seem more relevant now than ever. For children, the process of mourning and grieving may be exceptionally difficult as it is likely a foreign concept to them at such a young age.
The process of mourning and grieving looks different to everyone, however, when it comes to healing, there are a number of steps you can take to make the process a bit lighter and easier. Here are our suggestions when it comes to supporting children when they are mourning the loss of a loved one:
#1 Finding Comfort In Others
Allowing your children to find comfort and support in a grief support group is a critical factor in how they move through the mourning and grieving process of a loved one’s death. Whether this means additional support at home, or with friends and other family members, each person that can offer a shoulder to cry on is important in your child’s emotional recovery grief process.
#2 Feel Comfortable Sitting with Emotions
It is important to give your child space where they can get comfortable with sitting with their emotions. When it comes to healing, you cannot simply avoid, take a shortcut, or go around any emotions… you have to feel them out, sit with them, and eventually move through them. When children make space for feelings such as grief and mourning, they can begin to heal.
#3 Be Patient
Related to sitting with emotions, being patient is another huge step when it comes to handling intense feelings. Healing does not happen overnight, even for adults who have far more life experience. That said, let your child know that sadness and grief gets easier with time. Try sitting your child down and explaining an example of when you overcame a hardship and how it took some time to work through.
#4 Talk About Your Loved One
Talking about the deceased person can be extremely helpful in the healing process as well. While it may be hard to talk about at first, talking about positive memories and experiences with the person can also be comforting. Avoiding discussions of your child’s loved one can be more detrimental in the long run and lead to prolonged grief. Feel free to give your child the time they need and let them know that if and when they are ready to talk about their loved one, you will be there to listen.
#5 Seek Professional Help
Sometimes there is only so much healing that can happen on your own or in the home. If you need additional support, seeking professional help for grief counseling for your child is a great way to help them mourn the loss of a loved one. At Children’s Bureau, each child’s emotional needs are thoroughly analyzed through an assessment to match them with the perfect mental health resources. With a variety of services and emotional support tools, your child can find the support they need in moments of loss and mourning from a grief expert.
Seeking professional help is also extremely beneficial in times where much is out of your control as a parent. With no tangible end in sight of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents all over the world are having a difficult time trying to navigate the grieving process that their children are facing, not just with loved ones but also with life before the pandemic. If you or your child feel like you need extra support, especially at this time, therapy is a great option to lend a helping hand and get you and your family back on your feet.
The Path to Healing
Healing from the loss of a loved one is never easy, especially from a child’s perspective. However, with the steps listed above, you can guarantee that your child will begin to understand their emotions better and begin to heal their hearts in doing so. The best part is, you can start whenever you and your child feel ready. So let them know that you are there for them and that there is an endless support system for them when they are ready to talk about how they’re feeling.
Susan J. Wood, Former Director of Mental Health
Susan J. Wood, LMFT was the Director of Mental Health at Children’s Bureau and has over 20 years of experience working with children in a community mental health setting. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2015 as a Program Manager in the Antelope Valley and became the program director in June 2018 where she was instrumental in opening and expanding mental health services to the Santa Clarita Valley and Long Beach.