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Good Grief

Author: Michele Tryon, CCLS
Published Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Change is a significant part of a child’s life. Developmental changes take place naturally as children move from one age and stage to another. Children grow from infants to toddlers to preschoolers in just a few short years. They experience separation from parents, loss of a bottle or pacifier, and giving up diapers and cribs for ’big kid’ underwear and beds. When my 3-year-old granddaughter outgrew one of her favorite outfits, she told me, “I don’t want to be big. I want to be ‘yittle’.” It’s common to resist change. I’d like her to stay little, too! 

As children enter school-age and teen years, we see significant growth in their ability to understand and deal with change. While they are growing physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally, they often endure experiences that challenge them to work through frustration or sadness. They may start a new school, make a friend who moves away, have a parent deploy, experience the loss of a pet or loved one, or go through the separation or divorce of their parents. 

Children experience grief when the circumstances around them change. Grief is a heartfelt longing for what was and no longer is. When children are grieving, it surfaces in their behavior and demeanor. While we often can’t change the circumstances, we can offer comfort and support to help our children organize their feelings and find ways to express their sadness.  

When a child has a caring adult offering information and comfort, they show remarkable resilience in overcoming difficulties. When we honor all their feelings and teach them to positively cope with loss, they gain confidence in handling life’s changes and challenges for years to come.  

Here are some tips for helping your child grieve well and develop resilience: 

Take care of yourself. 

A child’s loss does not happen in a vacuum, it impacts the entire family. Many times, you as the parent are experiencing a loss as well. Develop a support system to ask for help when you are feeling overwhelmed by your own loss. 

Develop thinking and feeling strategies to help your child cope.

Give them age-appropriate information about what happened, or is happening. Accept a range of emotions. Your child needs to understand that whatever they are feeling is OK.  Listen to them when they express uncomfortable feelings or show behavior that seems irrational. Resist the urge to cheer them up to honor their right to feel mad, sad, or disappointed. Getting through it is what builds their coping muscles.

Develop growing and doing strategies. 

Your child has an innate desire to be okay. Doing something is often a way to make sense of loss. Ask your child what they would like to do to feel better. They could make a card, draw a picture, look up information about a new school, or help to plan a memorial ceremony. It can be very touching for us to witness our children’s efforts, and it helps them gain mastery in a challenging situation. 

For more insight on how to help, you can attend Grieving While Growing: A Conversation About Supporting Children and Families Through Loss, a FREE CHKD workshop with Jeané Liburd, CCLS, to be held in Norfolk on October 24, 2018. Register at CHKD.org/Classes



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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.