Healthy Coping Strategies
Author: Ellen Sabin
For grieving Children and Parents
Parents with young children dealing with the loss of a loved one face a particularly difficult challenge working through their own grief while simultaneously trying to help their children deal with death and loss. No one is prepared to help their children grieve. Tools and conversation-starters have great value in guiding families toward healthy coping strategies.
The tips that follow are meant to help you to help your child and yourself:
- Explain what “grieving” is to your child: that all of the different feelings in their heart, head, and body are parts of grieving and that they are normal and part of the process. Without such understanding many children feel confused by their emotions and fears.
- Let your child know that they might have many different thoughts and feelings and that they are all okay.
- Allow your children to see you sad, happy, angry, lonely, and know that it is okay for you to feel the range of emotions you will feel.
- Explain that talking about feelings, asking questions, and remembering the person who died can help them feel better. Let them know that they can talk to you.
- Be willing to hear and discuss your children’s feelings and allow them to talk about the person who died. Recalling memories might have great value to one child while others might not be ready to talk about the person. Be conscious of their prompts.
- Let your children know that it’s okay to talk about and remember good things as well as not-so-good things. They might ask you to tell them stories of family activities or remind them about the person. If prompted by a child to recall the person, consider creating a memory-book with photos and memories.
- Go at your child’s pace in addressing questions and once they ask you, be willing and prepared to answer them honestly and directly. Some children will ask about how or why someone died, the rituals around the funeral, where the person went, what else will change in their lives, etc. Questions often express fears, uncertainty, and concerns, so answering them will help comfort your child.
- Tell your child it is okay to talk to other adults or friends. Expanding their support circle is a gift in general, but is particularly valuable when children see their parent’s grief and might want to avoid upsetting them, thereby delaying or avoiding their own healing process.
- Talk about ways you try to feel better when you are feeling sad. Let them know that they can come up with ideas for themselves, as well. This will empower them to feel a measure of control and learn skills that might help them in other life challenges.
- Take care of yourself—talk to friends, family, or a professional; think of things that make you feel better; keep a journal and spend time with your children doing things that make you and them happy.
By Ellen Sabin, MPH, MPA: Ellen Sabin is the author of The Healing Book: Facing the Death—and Celebrating the Life—of Someone You Love. It is available at wateringcanpress.com.