Helping a child through grief whilst grieving yourself
A family death can rob you of so much more than a person you love. It robs you of your energy, your hope, and sometimes just of the simple will to get up in the morning.
Grieving the death of a family member can be especially overwhelming for parents. You not only have to find the strength within yourself to get through the loss, you have to support your children through their grief, all while keeping the household from falling apart.
Trying to keep things going can be very hard
When dealing with a child who is grieving while also grieving yourself, the bereavement process can be a balance between caring for yourself and providing for the family. You not only have to pay the bills, you have to become an emotional rock for your kids while you feel crumbled inside.
You want to help them through their grief, you want to take care of your family, but how do you provide hope to your child when you've lost your own?
The simple answer is that you can't do it alone. Now is the time to ask for help and recruit a community of friends and family to help ease the burden of the bereavement process.
Here's a list of things other adults could do to help your children:
- Keep social activities in their life: parents, especially those who have lost their partner, often have a hard enough time just keeping the house together. Recreation time can be squeezed out in the crunch. If you actually do find the time, the fun may feel forced when you're not feeling so playful. Ask another parent if they wouldn't mind including your child in a group activity. Have someone take him or her to a funny movie or just to go throw around a Frisbee. It's still important for your child to play and get his or her mind off the grief in your home.
- Help getting things done: life moves on even after a death. There are still haircuts to be had, clothes to be bought and school functions to go to. Find a friend who may be able to take your child to these things. It may make your child feel more comforted to be with friends while they do these tasks, and it helps the bereaved parent as well.
- Just to hang around: having a trusted adult around provides comfort for children in the confusing and frightening time around a death. It doesn't matter what they do, but just being there for chores, dinner or TV time can make a big difference to children who might feel lonely and lost in the shuffle.
- Just to talk: children need someone to say it's OK to be sad. They may need to express their feelings to someone who isn't so close to the loss, not wanting to bring up the death to another family member for fear they will break down and cry themselves.
What to do for yourself:
- Take care of yourself: one of the most important needs of a grieving child is to reestablish a sense of safety. If they see their parents, or perhaps their only remaining parent, falling apart, they're likely to feel even more out of control. You need to approach your grief in the same healthy way that you'd hope your child would.
- Find a balance of grief: you don't have to be the hero, bottling up your grief so that you never cry in front of your child. But you do have to be reliable. Make sure you're grieving in a constructive way.
- Get organized: keep a list of things to do, where the children have to go for activities, and a list of meals for the week. This way you can look ahead to the challenges of the week, and see if there are any areas where you need to ask for help. This may seem like a lot of work, but it will help you feel more in control.
- Avoid drugs, alcohol and caffeine. Remember that you are setting an example for your children's grief, and you don't want them to think that the only way to get better is to drink your way through it.
- Exercise and eat right when you can. Keep those frozen lasagnas on hand for emergencies, but try to keep the family healthy with nutritious meals. Although it may seem crazy to work out at a time like this, try to start back as soon as you feel ready. A long walk or jog may give you time to think, and it will certainly lift your spirits.
- Educate yourself about your grief. Check our Amazon bereavement store to find books that can help you through this time. Understanding the various feelings of grief will help you feel more in control and more prepared for the emotional path that grief takes you on.
- Allow yourself to grieve. Face your grief head on and don't be afraid to talk about it with the family. Keep a journal where you can pin down the feelings and thoughts that are spinning around in your head.
Other things to do:
- Look for a grief support group for your child and also for yourself. These can be found at Hospices, mental health centers and churches.
- Grieve as a family. Share stories you might not have thought to tell while your loved one was alive. Make a scrapbook together; talk about what you miss and don't be afraid to cry together. Make sure you tell your children that it's OK when you cry, just like it's OK when they cry.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help. Many people forget about grief as the months pass. That can be when you need the most help, and friends and family will be willing to provide it as long as they know it's needed.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Children: helping a child cope with death section helpful too.
Visit our Amazon store to find grief books for children.