As much as we try to protect our children from painful events, grief, and loss are often a normal part of childhood. It can be especially hard for parents to watch little ones suffer and is compounded when the loss affects the parent, too. It can be hard enough to learn how to cope with grief and loss as an adult and to learn to say goodbye to a loved one or adjust to a major life change such as divorce. For children who do not have the emotional vocabulary to express their feelings or their needs, it can be even harder.
There are things parents can do to help grieving children:
Try to keep routines as stable as possible to provide predictability and safety
When something has changed dramatically in a child’s life such as losing a loved one or parents separating, this disruption can cause a feeling of instability and fear for children. Structure and routine provide a sense of predictability and let children know what to expect and that they can count on their caregivers.
As much as possible, try to keep sleep and wake times similar, mealtimes, and expectations for hygiene and screentime. While we are often tempted to reduce structure or limits during this time, when we reduce this much-needed structure, we often inadvertently signal to children we do not think they can handle it or create more feelings of uncertainty.
Flexibility is a key Component
That said, you may need to have some flexibility in your expectations regarding school performance, eating habits, or behaviors. Some children will often regress in toileting or other age-appropriate behaviors. Understanding this is normal and providing some grace while still holding routines and guidelines is helpful. If you are unsure what is acceptable or how to best balance this, a professional such as a play therapist can help guide you.
Creating Structure at Home
Play therapists at Katy Counseling frequently work with parents to help create an appropriate structure in the home that supports predictability and safety. Play therapists are experts at creating a safe, structured place in the playroom for children to process events and emotions in an age-appropriate way. This same experience allows them to help parents learn and use valuable skills during periods of disruption to allow for ideal healing.
Increase Love, Attention, and One on One Time
Children dealing with grief and loss often fear losing a parent or struggle with fears they are somehow responsible for. They need extra reassurance and support from caregivers during this time. It can be helpful to spend time with children doing activities they enjoy such as a bike ride, a trip to the park, or reading together.
This can be especially important if parents are going through a divorce or handling funeral arrangements as children often feel lost in the shuffle of necessary activities. Trying to keep some levity and connection during this time adds a buffer to stress. Some children, however, may want to spend more time alone and this can be ok. Just watch for signs of depression and make sure they know you are available to connect whenever they are ready.
A Focus on the Attachment Between Child and Parent
Several types of play therapy such as Filial Therapy, Child Parent Interaction Therapy, and Theraplay focus on the attachment bond between a child and their parent. Play therapists can offer suggestions to family members about how to increase love, connection, and safety during this time. If you are going through a divorce, a play therapist can offer suggestions to both parents on how to keep attachment as a child moves between their two homes.
Talk about Feelings with your child and model how to manage emotions
Children learn by observing their world. Parents are often worried to talk about their grief or show sadness for fear of upsetting their child. However, children are remarkably perceptive and may think they have done something wrong and internalize those feelings as something wrong with them. Additionally, they may also learn it is not ok for them to talk about or show their feelings.
Finding Balance When Discussing Grief and Loss
Learning how to appropriately talk about grief and loss with a child is a difficult skill for anyone! This can be especially tricky in cases of divorce as it is not appropriate to give adult information to children. Additionally, we do not want children to feel responsible for taking care of an adult’s feelings. Finding a balance that allows an adult to say they are having a “sad moment” and modeling taking a break versus catastrophizing and saying “I’ll never get over this!” can be a hard balance.
Learn Appropriate Ways of Communicating
A qualified play therapist has the tools to allow children to express emotions in a safe environment using toys, games, sand trays, and art materials and to model appropriate skills and behaviors to care for their big feelings. Play therapists are also trained to help parents regulate their own feelings and learn appropriate ways of communicating feelings and modeling appropriate coping skills.
Play with your Child
Play is the language of children. They work through their experiences and feelings through various play activities. You may see them talking to a deceased person, drawing them, or playing out grief with various toys. Feel free to engage with this play and enter their world! Play is also super helpful at regulating emotions by discharging energy and meeting their needs. Play therapists are experts at play! Using creative interventions and the therapeutic powers of play, children can heal from grief and loss and thrive in spite of it.
Begin Play Therapy in Katy, TX Today and Help Your Child Overcome Grief
Facing grief and loss can be challenging for children. If you have trouble expressing your grief or are concerned about your child, a Play Therapist can help! Play therapy can help your child learn new skills, overcome their grief and loss and thrive again!
Want more information about Play Therapy and how it can help your Child? Visit the Parents Corner at The Association for Play Therapy (a4pt.org). Or follow the steps below to connect with us at Katy Counseling:
- Learn more about our team here.
- Fill out our convenient online contact form for more information.
- Begin the journey to making your family whole.
Other Mental Health Services Offered At Katy Counseling
In addition to offering Play Therapy, we also offer a wide range of services for adults, teens, and children. These services include Teen Counseling, Adult Counseling, Couples Counseling, Trauma Counseling, Women