8 Ways to Help Your Kids through a Season of Loss

8 Ways to Help Your Kids through a Season of Loss

A few summers ago, our family lost six people and our children attended no less than three funerals.

To say the summer was challenging and heart-breaking is a vast understatement. At seemingly every turn, we were bombarded with deep thoughts, hard questions, and unpredictable emotions.

If God loves us, why did He let Nani die?

Since her father died, does that mean Dad will die when I’m young, too?

She was such a good person. Why didn’t God choose to save her?

How come some people are able to overcome addiction, but others give back into it?

No matter the type of loss or the depth of grief associated with it, kids need ways to cope. It can be overwhelming to think of helping our kids at the same time we are managing our own grief. The airplane-oxygen mask analogy is overused, but only because it’s applicable in so many situations. We can’t truly help our kids through their grief if we are unwilling to help ourselves through our own. Thus, if you’re grieving the same loss as your kids, you must make sure you have your own support system in place.

Here are 8 ways to help your kids through a season of loss:

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  • 1. Let them process without interrupting.

    1. Let them process without interrupting.

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    Your kids may say things they don’t really think are true, but instead of interrupting them to question their thought patterns, just let them go on. Chances are, they will most likely arrive at what they really think just by getting everything out, especially if they are external processors. This also reinforces for them that you are a safe place to share anything that comes into their minds because they aren’t afraid of your judgement.

    Grief is often messy and feels chaotic, so not holding the expectation that they should always feel a certain way at a certain time releases the pressure of the situation. And a good thing to remember—emotions are neither good nor bad. They just are. We feel how we feel and that’s okay. 

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  • 2. Don’t take things personally.

    2. Don’t take things personally.

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    Grief, no matter how hard we try to manage it, comes out sideways sometimes. The anger kids feel about loss gets directed at us. Grief is best handled with an extra dose of grace. While it’s important to help kids understand the root of their anger, pointing this out at every turn may have the opposite effect we want.

    Sometimes our own grief will manifest itself as anger, too. When this happens, apologize and explain to your kids what’s happening inside you. This helps them to better understand they are not the true targets and makes them more aware of how their own sideways grief may impact the people around them.

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  • 3. Let them see you cry.

    3. Let them see you cry.

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    We do a disservice to our kids when we aren’t real about our own emotions. Kids often take their grief cues from us. They know it’s okay to cry if we cry. They know it’s okay to talk about the loss if we talk about the loss. Yes, we need to make sure our kids don’t feel responsible for helping us to manage our emotions, but we can show sadness without overwhelming them with our own grief. 

    Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Kerkez

  • 4. Help them build a support network.

    4. Help them build a support network.

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    Sometimes, we aren’t the ones our kids want to talk through when the hard things of life happen. Make sure your kids know there are other people that are safe to talk with who can help them through grief. For example, youth group leaders, trusted teachers, and friends’ parents are all people who you may ask to be a safe place for your child to process. Loss leaves a big hole and while no one can replace the person who has died, it’s so important for kids to know they are not alone. Many churches and non-profits have resources for support as well, such as grief support groups. Don’t forget to find and utilize your own network, too. 

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  • 5. Be comfortable with their grieving styles and questions.

    5. Be comfortable with their grieving styles and questions.

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    Sometimes we think everyone should grieve the way we do. But the truth is, everyone will handle loss a little bit (or a lot) differently than we will. Some will need to talk about it, some will want to be left alone. Many will express grief through sadness and tears, but sometimes grief also comes out in anger, harsh words, and hard questions. Some kids may want to dive right back into normal life, while others need to press the pause button for a time.

    Speaking of questions, don’t be afraid to ask some of your kids. Checking in on them—whether they embrace this or not—shows that you care and that you genuinely empathize with their feelings of loss; that you desire to comfort them in their time of pain. If you feel like they aren’t able to talk about their pain, even when they are consistently given a safe space to do so, offer journaling or art as another way of expression.

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  • 6. Remember together.

    6. Remember together.

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    Sometimes kids are afraid to talk about the ones they’ve lost, especially if they fear the reactions of the adults around them. But encouraging kids to talk about their memories helps everyone through their grief process.

    Remembering helps us to appreciate how valuable the one we lost was to our lives and keeps their spirit alive in our memories and hearts. Encouraging your kids to write down these memories (or if their young, making a memory book with them) will continue to serve them well and provide comfort.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tijana87

  • 7. Create space for positivity.

    7. Create space for positivity.

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    Kids may feel ashamed if they find themselves laughing for feeling joy in the season of loss. But these are things that make hard times more bearable. Letting kids know that it’s actually good to laugh and still be able to enjoy life gives them permission to simply take things as they come. The activities in which they love to participate can still be part of their lives and actually serve to foster the grief process, not detract from it.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/Martinan

  • 8. Prepare for milestones.

    8. Prepare for milestones.

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    The “year of firsts” is incredibly hard for anyone who has experienced loss. Acknowledging that these events will be hard going into them brings validity to your kids’ emotions. Talking about your own past experiences with grief may help kids prepare for how they may feel when they reach these milestones. But here’s the thing: sometimes it’s not the exact day that’s the hardest. Knowing that there may be grief triggers before or after the event prepares you for the fact that grief is unpredictable and often comes in waves. And when the waves come, it’s usually better to ride the tide than to try to stop them.

    This brings us to this very truth: one way or another, grief will come out of us in either healthy or unhealthy ways. The more space and time we give ourselves and our kids to process naturally, the more opportunities we will have to process in healthy ways.

    Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography and are also creators of the Marriage Matters Prayer Cards. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy at The {K}not Project. Jen is also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

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