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How to Help Kids Process Grief

How to Help Kids Process Grief
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By: Robert Garrett

When I was 7, my mum passed away. It wasn’t until some 30 years after the fact, that I was finally able to talk about her without ending up in tears. The impact of unresolved grief, particularly on the developing brain (which already functions in a highly emotive state in teenagers), can have long-term implications. I’ve known adults still struggling decades after a tragic event in their childhood.

Last year our school community was rocked by a series of tragedies within a six-month period – a couple of road accident deaths, a double homicide and a few suicides.

The school counsellors were great, but there was only so much they could do in their short one-on-one sessions. As parents, we are often best placed to observe any changes – clues that tell us our child isn’t doing so well. I was asked by another dad how we could best support our children through this difficult period, as grief was layered upon more grief. Not having expertise in this area myself, I read a number of research papers by credible psychologists to find some practical ideas that would help steer our kids through those dark days.

Guiding Our Kids Through Grief & Trauma

Recently I came across a great blog on the topic by psychologist, author and media presenter – Dr Justin Coulson, called  Helping our children through dark, difficult days, which gave some incredibly helpful tips for supporting and guiding our kids through grief and trauma. The context of the blog is in response to a mother of three, struggling to know how to help her children after their father has attempted suicide twice in six weeks. Coulson’s advice is so helpful, I’d highly recommend reading the blog in its entirety; I’ve bookmarked it on my computer for future reference.

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Not Our Job To ‘Fix It’ For Our Kids

Coulson points out that as parents, it’s not our job to ‘fix it’ for our kids. I think that men find this message especially difficult because, generally speaking, we want to find a solution and develop a plan to help our child get over it. But I question if we ever fully ‘get over it’. Joanne Cacciatore, PhD, associate professor of social work at Arizona State University and traumatic grief counsellor said, “We’re so focused on healing as quickly as we can and being happy. Grief has to unfold over time.”

Getting Over Grief Is A Myth

A Psychology Today article entitled ‘Grief Isn’t Something to Get Over’ says that, “The notion that one mourns a loss and then gets over it, to the extent that emotions about the loss are not triggered in the future, is a myth.”

The fact that I still experience some sadness 47 years after my mum’s death is a reminder that she holds a special place in my life, and it also reminds me with gratitude that for the past 46 years I’ve been blessed to have another mother who has loved me as her own.

Emotions And Knowing When To Get Professional Help

Coulson also talks about the value of empathy and helping our kids to identify their feelings and let them know that “their emotions are a normal part of being human”.

Whilst he offers practical things that parents can do to help their kids navigate dark days, he also states the importance of knowing where to get professional help when it’s required (e.g. contact a psychologist, search online resources such as beyondblue.org.au)

Grief Reminds Us We’re Connected

Grief is an important part of life, it reminds us that we’re connected to others and those connections matter. If we develop a practice of regular, open conversation with our kids, we’ll be alerted to episodes of grief in their life and be in a position to support them.

Article supplied with thanks to More Like the Father.

About the Author: Robert is an Australian author of More Like the Father. Robert and his wife Cath have 3 children; his two great passions are strengthening families and equipping and encouraging fathers.

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