|When Children Experience Upheaval
Tip—Grieving children will remember any effort you make to support and care for them.
Although we may not think of certain changes as loss, many children experience things like saying goodbye to a favorite teacher at the end of the year, moving to a new house, or acquiring a new sibling as losses.
When something more traumatic occurs, like a death or a divorce, the loss is more obvious and we expect grieving behavior. How will this affect them? How can adults in their lives help them process their feelings and ease the transition?
Tools—Grief therapist, Laurie Kanyer, author of 25 Things to Do When Grandpa Passes Away, Mom and Dad Get Divorced, or the Dog Dies, explains that grieving is the experience we all go through to understand loss in our lives. “Getting used to and accepting loss are the goals of grief work,” she says. “You, as a caring adult, can offer activities that will help children accept loss and live with it.” The following two ideas are drawn from her helpful book.
- Building Trust in the Future. Children thrive best when life is predictable. When they suffer loss, their sense of security and ability to trust are shaken. Often, they worry about who will take care of them and meet their daily needs. Kanyer advises talking about changes openly and trying to maintain a child’s routine as much as possible. One thing that will help a child is to write down his or her daily schedule together so that you both can remember what is going to happen and who is going to do it. For example:
____ wakes me up and helps me get ready for school in the morning.
____ makes my breakfast and packs my lunch.
____ takes me to school.
____ picks me up from school.
- After school, I go to _______________
____ helps me with my homework.
____ fixes my dinner.
____ helps me out with my bath/evening routine.
____ tucks me in, reads to me, says prayers with me, etc.
- (if applicable) I see my counselor at _____ (hour) on __________(day).
This sort of list will help build a sense of security and trust in a child struggling to cope with loss.
Play Dough Therapy. Kanyer reminds us that grief is an energy that gets expressed physically—through crying, talking, or moving. She has many ideas for working off grief energy. One is using play dough. Besides being physical, it can help a child create a concrete and visible symbol of his or her life experiences. While the child is immersed in playing with clay, he or she is totally in charge of the outcome. During times of grief, there is little a child can control, so this kind of play offers a sense of power. Don’t make a model for the child to copy; let her make anything she wishes. It doesn’t need to be recognizable; kneading the clay to release grief energy is the goal.
Don’t assume older children are too mature to mess around with play dough. Ask them to join you, or to help some younger child “get started” playing. …Laurie Kanyer
The following are family counselling resources in our school district.
These are two good B.C. online resources to help.
Happy Mother’s Day!