5 Ways to Help Your Children Work Through Grief and Loss

When children experience grief and loss, it is important that they are provided with the love and support they need to process it.

Tom Andriola June 11, 2016

Children are vulnerable. They depend on a stable, loving environment as their bodies and minds develop over the course of childhood. Because their brains are so malleable, both positive and negative circumstances can be more impactful for them than for adults who experience similar situations. When children experience grief and loss, it is important that they are provided with the love and support they need to process it in an effective and healthy manner. Here are five things you can do to help your children through tough times.

Listen with empathy.
1. Listen with empathy.

Adoptees may experience grief and loss because they have been removed from their biological families. Some may even experience significant trauma because of it, and the situation could be exacerbated because of one or more additional adverse childhood experiences. Children who are experiencing grief and loss need someone who will listen to them without judgment. Be there to lend an empathetic ear to your child when he or she is having a difficult time.

Stay away from criticism.
2. Stay away from criticism.

Believe it or not, there are still adults who will tell their kids something like, “get over it" or “big boys don’t cry” when addressing a child who is experiencing grief or loss. News flash: that’s not effective. A child who is having a difficult time doesn’t need to essentially be told to suck it up. He or she needs love and support from a caring adult.

Don’t patronize them.
3. Don’t patronize them.

You may not understand what your child is going through, and you may think it’s over the top, but don’t shrug off what’s real to them. And that means not only avoiding patronizing words, but being careful of your body language as well. Kids are perceptive: They know when they’re not being taken seriously.

Avoid proposing solutions.
4. Avoid proposing solutions.

It’s not so much proposing solutions that’s a problem, it’s how they’re proposed. “Find a hobby to take your mind off of it” is not likely to have a positive effect on your child. Try asking what would be helpful to them instead, or perhaps suggest some activities that the two of you might enjoy together without even bringing up the difficult situation. Your son or daughter might just need some special attention to help them process the grief and loss and feel loved.

Don’t tell them to be grateful.
5. Don’t tell them to be grateful.

“Look at the home we have provided for you,” an adoptee might be told. “You should be grateful.” These and similar phrases are a no-no. A child who is experiencing grief and loss does not need to be told to be grateful, and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty if they don’t. Kids need to feel safe and secure, loved and protected. They need to be provided with the freedom and space to be able to grieve without the pressure of worrying about being abandoned again if they don’t have the "right" reaction to something or feel grateful enough for the situation they were placed in.

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Tom Andriola

Tom Andriola advocates for adoptee rights and shares his personal experiences about being adopted and his successful, independent search for both biological parents. To see more of his writing, visit Tom's Facebook page.

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