It’s something that nobody likes to talk about, but it’s as inevitable as it is tragic. How does a parent support their child through a bereavement? It’s a heartbreaking responsibility, but it’s one that every parent must endure at some time or another. The problem is compounded by the fact that, as your child will have lost someone, it’s likely that you will as well. If they’ve lost a grandparent, you’ve lost a parent or in-law. If they’ve lost a parent, you’ve lost a partner. If they’ve lost a sibling, you’ve lost a child. It’s grief compounded upon grief, but left unchecked it can lead to a host of psychological issues for your child and yourself.
While everyone deals with a bereavement in different ways, it’s important to approach a loss in the family in a frank, supportive and healthy way… And the best way to do that is together.
First: take care of you
That might seem selfish, but it’s the same mentality as putting your own oxygen mask on a plane before putting one on your child. You need to make sure that you’re in a position to help them or you’ll do more harm than good. It’s important to do what you can to deal with your own trauma before attempting to help your children through theirs. Give yourself as much time as you can to process your grief and, as much as you may feel that you need to be a rock for your children, allow yourself to cry and appear emotionally upset in front of your child. Remember that your child will likely follow your lead and if you appear unusually calm and emotionless they may infer from this that it is not acceptable to show emotions.
Letting them know
Breaking the news of a loss is a terrible responsibility and there’s no way of knowing how your child will react but there are some ways of delivering the news that have proven to be successful…
- Be clear and unambiguous. Avoid euphemisms.
- Listen- Your child may cry, they may get angry, they may not react visibly at all. All of this is okay, just be on hand to listen to them.
- Tell them what to expect in the short and long term.
- Try to get them to articulate their emotions.
Watching for signs of incomplete mourning
While you’re dealing with the logistics like filing for a death certificate or arranging your pre-paid funeral plans you may find yourself dealing with the loss better than you may have expected. Indeed, many of us find that we cope better when we are kept busy. As admirable as this may be, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of incomplete mourning both for you and your child. If you or your child seem unusually tired, apathetic, stressed, sluggish, quick to anger, compulsive behaviour or an apathy towards day to day life and activities these may be signs of incomplete mourning.
Since everyone processes their grief in different ways, make a pact with your child to turn to each other when they need someone to talk to. By pulling together, you can come out of this sad but necessary ordeal stronger.