It is human to feel. It is normal to cry. These are basic human needs. We are feeling beings, and often we have to pretend that we are feeling "nothing." We deny our basic needs, and we create an imbalance in our lives.
Communication comes in many forms, and speech is only one form. We have the ablility to create art, write stories, act parts in drama (plays, movies, TV programs, etc.), dance, build things and more. It is sad when individuals choose to "build" physical things/actions that harm others.
Grief is a complex group of emotions that take time to work through. Adults and children process these events differently. An adult can analyze the event, correlate it with other past events, and work through it using the past and present.
Children usually do not have past events to refer to. We are helping them build healthy ways of working through grief or other emotions. As adults, we are responsible for helping a child through a traumatic event in a healthy way.
The hardest part for an adult is to be patient enough with the child, especially if we are trying to navigate our own emotions to the same event. It is a time where we have to see/admit our own short-comings, and be honest with ourselves and the child involved.
Here are some tips to help a child through a death or traumatic event:
- Create an open and safe atmosphere to share thoughts, feelings and emotions. Processing these is different for each individual, including children. It is important to acknowledge the thought, feeling or emotion without judging, or insinuating that it is wrong for the situation. It could be that it needs further definition for the child, so that they understand what it means.
- Talk about the lost loved-one or event, and set a healthy example. It is important to acknowledge the passing of a loved-one or the traumatic event, without obsessing over it. The thoughts, feelings and emotions can be over-whelming without talking. Children learn to hold these events inside, unless the adults in their lives are open and sharing.
- Encourage sharing through words, writing, art, or acting (role-playing). Each individual has a way of expressing their feelings without words. Children should be encouraged to draw, paint, write or act to express themselves. These are healing to their emotional body. It works well for adults too.
- Be patient. This cannot be expressed enough. Trauma is not something most people “get over” quickly. Some are able to file it away quickly, while others need to process the information a few times and come to an “understanding.” Children need extra patience, because they are learning the psychological tools to process the death or event. No matter how painful it is for the adult, children need enough time and guidance to work through their emotions.
- Be age appropriate, and remember that children are very smart. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to children. They inherently know the truth, and look to adults to provide them with it. What is needed is being selective with the words and information shared. Make it appropriate for the child, and answer their questions truthfully. Sometimes, it is appropriate to simply state that they are not old enough yet. The “yet” is the most important part, because it says that they will be old enough at some point.
- Admit when a mistake is made, talk about it, and be honest. Through life-changing events, it is easy to “gloss over” the importance to talk about mistakes or errors. Sometimes, it is easier to say “because I told you. . .” instead of addressing the issue. A child understands if an adult makes a mistake. It teaches them that adults are human. It helps them learn that they too will make mistakes, and the best way to handle it is to talk honestly about it.
- Respect others thoughts, feelings and emotions without internalizing them. A life-changing event tends to make people emotionally raw. It’s easier to say something as a reaction, than to think it through before speaking. If a child lashes out, it is good to re-direct their emotions to an appropriate outlet.
- Acknowledge and teach appropriate outlets for thoughts, feelings and emotions. Our modern-day society seems to gravitate towards suppressing our emotions, and playing a lot of video games. Children are learning that it is ok to work through emotions by playing a video game, watching television or other media form. Children need to know that healthy release of thoughts, feelings and emotions extends beyond media. Some of the best ways to release these is playing outside at the playground, drawing/painting pictures, writing stories, talking, sharing or talking to a councilor to learn new coping skills.