When Hannah was seven years old her dad died of lung cancer, leaving behind his wife and four children (all of whom were under the age of eleven). Hannah shares how her family grieved and the importance of grieving together as a family unit.Read More
Michelle Noble, A Haven's Executive Director, writes about why she has chosen to work with grieving families.Read More
One of the most helpful ways we can support a grieving child is to listen and normalize their feelings.
As an adult, we can feel the pressure to want to jump in and fix the child's hurt. Unfortunately, we cannot take the child's pain away. It hurts when someone we love dies no matter how old you are. Trying to comfort a child with phrases like, "I know just how you feel..." or with advice to "move on," or "don't cry" can leave a child feeling unsupported. While our intention of soothing a child are good, using such responses can negate the child's own experiences and feelings.
Children learn very quickly from the adults in their life about what emotion is acceptable and what is not. When we tell children not to cry, yet they feel like crying, we teach them that what they are feeling is not right. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Children learn what is normal from the adults in their life. The biggest determining factor on how a child grieves is how the adults in their life grieve. We teach children ways of coping with grief; we model it by our behavior and by what we say.
It is OK to let your child see you hurting. This can help the child feel less alone in their grief. Narrating your experience and sharing things that make you feel better is helpful for children to begin to learn how to grieve in a healthy way. For example,
"Daddy is sad because I miss Mommy. Sometimes I cry when I think about her. It is OK to cry. Hugs make me feel better."
"Mommy is crying because she misses Grandpa. I'm OK, but I am sad. It is OK to cry. Sometimes, thinking about happy memories with Grandpa, makes me feel better. I remember when Grandpa used to feed the dog the food from his plate when Nana wasn't looking..."
It is also important to use open-ended questions instead of "are you sad?" This allows children to freely express their feelings without pressure to respond in a certain way. When we ask "are you______?," we teach children what they should be feeling instead of giving them space to be open to their experience. When we ask "what was that like?" we give them the space to freely express their feeling.
Allowing children to freely express their grief is an important part in healing. When we listen, they feel supported, safe, and loved. Normalizing and validating their experience also provides opportunities for children to be more open and honest in the future.
- When a child makes a statement " I miss my Grandma who died." Simply reflect back what you heard, using their words. This lets them know they are being listened to.
- When a child asks a question, instead of jumping to an answer, ask them "what do you think?" This gives you a window into what the child has been thinking about and provides a better chance for you to address their actual concerns or fears. Often children ask surface questions with deeper emotional questions underneath. Allowing the child to expand a bit, also provides you the chance to learn where your child may need extra support.
- It is also OK to say "I don't know the answer to that question" if the child asks something that you do not have the answer to. It is better to be honest than make something up.
- Validate and normalize their feelings. "Oh honey, I am sad too. It is ok and normal to be sad."
Sara was in high school when her dad died suddenly. Life after that was like climbing a mountain - some days were an uphill battle, some an easier climb, always better with help from others, and with a view that was sometimes foggy and sometimes clear for miles. Even nearly two decades later, there isn't a day that goes by without thinking about her dad, but that's a good thing.Read More
When someone is grieving we can feel at a loss for words. Sometimes we speak quickly and unintentionally our words can be very hurtful. On the other hand, we can also be so afraid we will say the wrong thing that we don't say anything at all. Both can cause additional heartache to those grieving.
Below are a few quick tips on what to say, what not to say, and how to be a good friend to someone who is grieving.
It is almost always better to say "I am at a loss of words," or "I wish I knew what to say," then nothing at all.
What to say:
“I’m here if you want to talk.”
“It’s okay to cry in front of me.”
“I’ve been thinking about you. I’m so sorry this happened.”
“I can see you’re sad today, want to talk about it?”
"How is today?"
What NOT to say:
“At least your Dad is still alive.”
“Don’t cry, you have to be strong for your Mom and little sister.”
“I know how you feel.”
“At least he’s not in pain anymore.”
“God needed him in Heaven.”
What to do for your friend:
Just be a friend by being there, it means a lot.
Send a quick text telling them you are thinking of them.
Still invite your friend to do fun things even when he/she is hurting.
Ask your friend about a good memory of the person who died.
Remember the potential hard days for them and make a card, send a note, or call on Birthdays, Christmas, death anniversaries, etc.
Liz Dreibelbis, A Haven's Clinical Director, speaks on one of the reasons she chose to do this work.Read More
Father's Day can be a difficult day for children and adults alike who have experienced the death of their Father. Below are 3 tips to help with the days leading up to this Sunday, Father's Day.
Acknowledging that Father's Day is Sunday to kids and adults will help them feel less alone. While a lot of others are celebrating they might feel like they don't know what to do.
Know that Father's Day may bring up a wide range of emotions.
There are no wrong emotions. It's okay to NOT be okay. And it is okay to be okay.
Be patient with yourself and the kids. Grief is unpredictable and every person feels differently.
Know you have a choice in what you do with the feelings that do come up. It is okay to express your feelings and model healthy coping in front of children. That way they know all feelings are okay.
Coming up with a plan can help ease anxiety. Give your children a few choices. Know you are the expert in what you need and you know your children best.
Think about a ritual or new tradition to remember Fathers can be a way to release some of the pain and hurt. Release a balloon, make a special meal, write a letter, visit the grave or listen to his favorite song. These are all healthy, beautiful ways to honor the Father in your life. Finally, explain to kids that their Dad is still their Dad no matter what. Or if there is another "Father figure" in their lives ask them if they'd like to do something for him. Either or both options are okay.
Do you have a friend or family member who has experienced the death of their Father or their children's Father?
In person, try not to avoid the subject. Tell them you are thinking of them. Words are not always needed; acknowledging the loss and a simple hug can be just what someone needs. If your friend seems up to talking - ask them about some memories of their Father or their children's father. Take cues from your friend, every person is different in what they need and it can change by the hour or the day. Your presence will mean a lot.
Finally, send a card, text or a little note telling them you are thinking of them knowing this day may be hard for them.
We know this day can be difficult for those who are hurting. If you have experiences on what has helped you or your family - please share below.
Have you ever looked up to the sky and saw a flock of geese flying in a V-formation and wondered why they do that? Yeah, me too...Read More