When a child is grieving, they can choose to withdraw into silence.
Do whatever you can to stay connected emotionally – Our tendency can be to retreat emotionally or to withhold information. But take cues from the child about how much to say, and be honest and real with them. Articulate the feelings you perceive. For example, if you notice an emotion, you could say, “You might feel…… about this, and that is okay and it’s normal.” Validate their emotions. It’s okay to feel anything – and they need to know that. Once they allow themselves to feel, they may need your guidance to know what to DO with those feelings.
You be the example. When you are sad, say, “I’m feeling really sad right now, and I need to cry. I’ll be okay, but crying helps me clear out, and helps me feel better afterwards. Don’t worry – I’ll be fine!” Then cry – and then once you are done, wipe away the tears, give them a hug, and thank them for understanding – and go do something to connect with them. Make a snack together, read a fun book, go for a walk, play a game, water the plants in the house, have a race to see who can clean their room the fastest – just get involved in life together again. (This is not a time to zone out to TV or electronic media – connect to their heart and mind!) With older youth, create times together where you can talk and allow feelings to be expressed. Watch their use of media. Is it increasing? Media tends to be self-absorbing, and a retreat from emotions and from relationships. Create as much interaction as possible with your youth and talk. (It doesn’t need to be talk about the loss – just talk about the things that interest your youth. The more they feel you are safe to talk to, the more they are likely eventually to open up about what they are feeling.) The most important thing for them to know is that while grieving it’s normal to feel lots of conflicting emotions. Anger, rage, sadness, loneliness, discouragement, even relief – and they don’t need to feel guilty for feeling ANY of them.
We all need to be able to express our feelings, and then to be validated for the things we are feeling. We may need help determining what to DO with those feelings, and it’s wise to seek help when you need it. As we are the example for the children in our lives, we all heal better.