Helping Children Deal with Death (and other stressful life events)

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Hi Idea Room Readers. It’s Heather from FamilyVolley, back to share a few helpful parenting tips with you.

I had something planned for this post, but when I woke a few days ago to start writing, everything changed. My Instagram feed was covered with images of a sweet little boy who was tragically killed last week. His mother is involve in social media, and the community has been posting in support of her, her husband and their family. I haven’t been able to shake the image of that little boy. I can’t help but look at my own children differently and think about my role as their mother differently too. I don’t know this family, but my heart hurts for them.

As I was following along with the story, tears running down my face, our daughter walked in the room. She looked over my shoulder and asked who the little boy was and the conversation about life and death began. It hit, like it does so often, that as a mother, I am there to help them get through tough things. To help them understand even when I don’t. To put aside my hurt, to help them with theirs. I would guess that many of you have needed to have a similar conversation with your children. The how’s and why’s are tough. How do you explain why a child is hurt, or taken so young.

So this weeks post has changed. In an attempt to offer you some answers and some help when these tough conversations arise, lets chat about how we can help our children deal with the stress and uncertainty of death. These tips can be used for any stress our families are faced with, (a new sibling, moving, starting school, etc…)

helping-children-deal-with-death

First, remember that everyone in your family deals with stress differently. When our children are very young, we can be more limited with what we tell them, but we never want to lie, or deceive. Be honest, don’t make things up.

We want to try and recognize how the stress is affecting our children (and the adults) in our family. Some children become violent or disobey. Some, like our daughter, become very quiet and withdrawn. There are almost always behavioral manifestations when dealing with stress. Be patient. Think about how hard it is to deal with these things as an adult and then put yourself in your child’s shoes.

Now… more specific suggestions.

1. Stick to the basics and eliminate stress. When there is a death or other stress in your family life, we need to do all we can to keep as much stress out of your home as possible. If we can’t keep up with the every day chores, we should ask for help. Eliminate ALL unnecessary activities and events. Get back to the basics.

2. Stick to the schedule. This is one of the most helpful things we can do for our children and for our families. Keep life consistent and keep doing what you have always done. Routines make life predictable. When things are predictable, they make us feel safe and secure. If we change everything up all of a sudden, it creates uncertainty with our children and that adds more stress. It will also make them feel that the death or stress has caused the instability.

3. Be a good example. When my grandmother died unexpectedly, I wanted to yell and scream and spit and throw something. I wanted to be so mad. But I couldn’t. Not like that, and not in front of the kids. We have to stay calm ourselves. Our children will be upset by outbursts and yelling. I could see our daughter watching me this morning as I scrolled through my social media feed. This will not be the last time she has to deal with death, or stress. It is my job to be a good example for her now, so as she grows older, she has the tools she needs to deal with these tough situations. I save my anger and hurt for when it is just my husband and me, and then I can be a little unstable.

4. Be a good listener. It is our job to protect our children. We need to give them a chance to talk, share their feelings, let them cry, be angry, and we need to listen. Listen without telling them to feel differently. We need to just let them feel the hurt and pain and emotions.

5. Teach our children coping skills. This might include how to handle anger, how to communicate and talk about feelings, how to take deep breaths, and how to relax.

6. DO THINGS TOGETHER AS A FAMILY! This is a big one. A really really big one. Do all you can to do things together as a family. When a loved one passes away we usually don’t want to get out and do anything. But we need to. There is solid evidence that shows that it is necessary to feel grief and pain, but that families who get out and do active things together, get over the loss faster and in a more healthy manner. Being active helps us heal.

7. Celebrate life. Help your children and family members do activities that will help them remember their loved one. When our children lost their great grandfather, who they were very close to, they each got to choose a special memento to keep in their rooms to help them remember him. We also talk about him on his birthday and holidays, and frequently pull up pictures of him and recall stories about his life. You can also put together a scrap book about their life that your kids can look through. Find ways to remember them and celebrate their life and the memories you hold so dear.

8. Find personal time to grieve. It can be easy to get so caught up in helping our children deal with death (or stress) that we don’t take time to grieve ourselves. I found myself doing this when my aunt died. She was very young and left behind three girls. I quickly became suto-mom to two of the three. One day I broke down in the shower. Filled with pain and grief. I had yet to take time to process the loss. And although I was needed to help them and my own family, I had to take some time for myself.

This Mother’s Day, we celebrate mothers and women everywhere. Mother’s who do hard things. Who wipe tears, who comfort when children are hurting, and who bring joy and love to children and families. And mother’s who loose children, and still find a way to get out of bed each day and strength the women around them. It is by far, the most difficult responsibility I have ever undertaken. But it is also the most rewarding.

Happy Mother’s Day to each of you, and to the mothers in your life. May we all have more strength and confidence in helping our children deal with the difficult situations life brings us. And may your hearts be light. We are all in this together.

How do you explain death to your children?

How do you help them, when you need to take time for yourself also?

Have a question, or just want to say hello? You can find me at FamilyVolley.com. On PinterestFacebook, and Twitter. Or send me an email. I love making new friends.



Comments

  1. 1

    Thanks for those tips.

    xoxo

  2. 2
    Kristie says:

    I love the suggestion of doing something together as a family. I lost my brother 2 years ago, and the thing I got out of his sudden death was that memories are what I will cherish most. I need to take the time to make memories. Because when the time to make memories is gone, you cannot get it back.

    • 3

      Kristie, so sorry to hear that you lost your brother. What a powerful reminder you give us. It is easy to get so busy we don’t make time to make memories. But you are right, we must.

  3. 4

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us Heather! This is such an important topic and you share some great tips to help all of us learn to cope with difficult things! xo

  4. 5
    Jessica says:

    I agree with all of your points except for hiding your instability from your children. Instead, I urge anyone feeling unstable to seek help from friends and family. The pressure of pretending can make things worse during grief. Instead, ask for help to insulate your children… But also offer them the opportunity to console you. Tough situations may give them an opportunity to discover their own gifts of the heart.

    • 6

      Hi Jessica. Love the point you make about sharing your grief and how it can help others find gifts of their hearts. Especially when you are sharing your grief in healthy ways that teach them how to cope with hard things. We are so blessed to have opportunities to be role models for children.

  5. 7

    I lost my mother when I was just six years old– from the perspective of a child losing a mother, I can say from my own experience to not say things like : “She is just sleeping” (which makes a child wonder why they won’t wake up, and causes a lot of distress when they are watching the casket go into the ground). Don’t say “She went to live with the angels” either because a child can take that to mean the person voluntarily left and it makes the child feel like they did something wrong. Understand that even though children may not totally understand the finality of death, that they do grieve and they grieve over and over as they get older and have a more mature understanding of death. It is also common to see a regression of behavior, for example I started sucking my thumb and wetting the bed due to the trauma of losing my mother. The child may not understand that they do these things out of stress, and adults should not make them feel badly for “acting like a baby”. It is their way of coping.

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