Grief is an inevitable part of life. If you’re taking the brave step to teach your kids about death and loss, be sure to avoid these 5 common mistakes.
Grief—it’s not pleasant. That’s the understatement of the year, right? It’s tough to talk to children about unpleasant stuff, especially when it involves death or trauma. Children get emotional, you get emotional, and it all feels so overwhelming.
But getting honest about the realities of grief, loss, and death, is one of the biggest gifts you can give your kiddo. If you’re ready to take the brave step toward teaching your kids to grieve in a healthy way, be sure to avoid these 5 mistakes.
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Teaching Children About Grief
- You’re afraid to say the “d-word.”
Death. There, we said it. It can be a scary topic to talk about. But the truth is that death is a natural part of living. You may think that your kids are too young to understand the concept, but if they don’t hear about it from you, they’ll hear it elsewhere first. If you avoid it by saying that “Grandma went to sleep,” or “She went up to heaven,” this will lead to misunderstandings and potential trauma down the road. Do you want your child to learn what actually happened to Grandma from a playmate or website?
- You’re determined to “be strong.”
You might think “being strong” means never showing your kids that you’re hurting. But true strength is honoring your emotions and being vulnerable enough to share them with your loved ones. Yep, that means it’s okay to cry in front of your kids. It’s okay to tell them that you’re feeling sad today. When your kids see you healthily expressing your emotions, they’ll learn that it’s okay for them to do it too.
- You put your kids on the spot.
Being vulnerable with your own emotions in front of your children has another benefit: They’ll feel comfortable sharing their emotions with you. So instead of putting them on the spot, and saying, “How are you feeling about Grandma?” Start by telling them how you’re feeling.
Here’s an example: “I’m having a hard day today. I’m really missing her.” Disclosing your own experience is an invitation for conversation. The invitation doesn’t make demands or have expectations. There’s no need for kiddo to perform their “okay-ness” or check a box. It’s just an open offer for conversation.
- You tell your kids what not to feel.
We often think it’s soothing to say, “Don’t be scared,” or “Don’t cry.” But these phrases are more invalidating than they are soothing. Part of healing your emotions is acknowledging them in the moment.
Make space for your kids to express their emotions without judgment or comparison. They may experience the news completely differently from their siblings, and each experience is completely valid in its own way.
- You make promises you can’t keep.
“I promise I’ll never leave you.” It can be tempting to say, and boy, don’t you wish it could be true? But making promises that are impossible to keep will only end in more heartbreak down the road.
Instead, you can promise: “I’ll do everything I can to make sure that we are all safe.” And it’s true: You have the power to give your kiddos the tools they need to cope with grief and loss in a healthy way. So don’t be afraid to make a time and place to have these important conversations. You’re on this grief recovery journey together.
Helping Children Navigate Grief
If you are struggling to approach the topic of grief with your own children or you are so distracted by your own grief that you worry you will hurt—not help—their grief recovery, you are not alone. We see you, we know you’re hurting, and want to offer you a safe place to share your story and feel supported in your healing journey. Contact us today to set up a free discovery call and spend some time with us – we’re here for you.
Sharon Brubaker is a certified Life Coach and credentialed Grief Specialist who, along with her team, teaches women who are grieving how to process their thoughts and emotions. To learn more about navigating grief within the family, listen to the full podcast episode here or download my free e-Book, The Griever’s Guide, which equips you with the tools to live life after grief; because no griever should have to navigate a broken heart on their own.