Parenting Handling Grief

The natural instinct of a parent is to protect their child from harm or loss of any kind. Sadly, death is not an area of over which we have much control. Loss and death are an inescapable part of our daily experiences whether in the form of a beloved maid who leaves, a treasured toy that gets lost, the death of a baby bird or more seriously of a pet or sometimes tragically of a loved one. The ability to cope with loss of any kind in a functional and constructive manner is a vital life skill that parents must inculcate in their children.

In rural and semi – rural communities, children grow up exposed to a natural cycle of life and death as seen in the fields, farms or even the parks and gardens in which they play. They see plants and animals dying and being born on a regular basis. It is therefore easier to understand and accept that there are certain natural rhythms and seasons in life. In today’s concrete jungles, however, things seem to go on forever, there are few natural rhythms around for children to understand and learn from, and they live in a world of instant gratification and phony suffering as seen on TV. Death or loss when it comes is therefore, a greater shock to these children.

Grief is a natural reaction to loss. It could be a reaction to simple loss or to death. There are normally three stages in grieving – denial, anger, and sadness. It is important that the grieving process should be allowed to run the full course as only then can healing begin. If it is arrested at any stage there is always a danger of future problems arising. So often parents have the problem of not only coping with their own grief but also helping the child to deal with his loss. Sometimes parents hide their own feelings in order to spare the child. In doing so, they may inadvertently be teaching the child to suppress her feelings and also giving the message that grief is not normal or all right.

Tips to help your child cope with grief: –

  • Never try to avoid or minimize the loss – whatever the nature of the loss, the fact remains that the child is grieving. Minimizing or trivializing will not change the feelings but will make her ashamed or guilty as well and will also cause her to hide such feelings from you in future. When the cause is death of a loved one it becomes even more essential to face the facts squarely and make it clear to her that you are suffering as well. This does not mean that you should frighten her by becoming dysfunctional from grief yourself, but it does mean that she should know that you share her grief and that experiencing grief is normal.
  • Make it clear to the child that the death or loss is not her fault. Very young children, particularly, often believe that they have caused whatever is wrong. They therefore tend to suffer from unnecessary guilt unless reassured by an adult.
  • Take care of yourself – if you yourself are in a bad shape let your family and neighbours look after the child till you are more able to cope.
  • Give the child things to do – an occupied child has less time to mope.
  • Understand that grief takes time. Don’t overreact to sudden and violent fits of anger that are a normal part of the grieving process. At the same time don’t consider this as a license for consistent misbehaviour.

Sometimes the intensity of the reaction is disproportionate to the magnitude of the loss. A child may be heart broken over the loss of a toy but may show hardly any reaction to the loss of a pet. This could be because of the fact that he does not dare to show or feel the loss in its completeness. It could also be that the grief is expressed in crying over relatively unimportant events while the child remains dry eyed for the actual cause of his grief. Sometimes however, the grief may be suppressed for years at a time in which case expert help may be needed.