Have you ever wondered if you were doing a good job with your child’s reaction to grief and loss? Well if you grew up like me, having feelings of loss acknowledged in a healthy way was unheard of. Which leaves us with an empty feeling in our souls.
I’d like to dedicate my next six blogs to the six myths around grief and how they affect children. Before we start, let’s first define grief. Grief is the “conflicting feelings caused by a change or end in a pattern of behavior.” The first myth I would like to bust is Don’t Feel Bad. The best answer to that is “Why not?” Something has happened which caused your child to feel bad and you’re telling them that they shouldn’t feel bad. Most parents would not tell their child, “Don’t feel the pain” after they had hit their finger with a hammer. However, a child may lose a grandparent and we might say, “Don’t feel bad at least grandpa didn’t suffer.” Or “Don’t feel bad he’s in a better place.”
What just happened here?? We want our children to be honest, yet we unintentionally encourage dishonesty through our incorrect reactions to their normal emotional responses about a life event. When they lose something they love from a fish to a grandparent it is appropriate for them to have sad, painful, or negative reactions to these events. Telling them not to be sad is suggesting that they be in conflict with their true feelings about the loss.
Let’s take this a step further and see how it might affect our behavior. Our child comes home and is sad because they had their feelings hurt at school. What we might have said and done was, “Don’t feel bad. Here, have a cookie, you’ll feel better.’ Omg if you’re not cringing at that statement I’m happy for you. We can see the patterns we imbed in ourselves and those we love by dissecting that. The child has learned to eat his or her feelings away. This is a setup for a lifetime of unwise choices when it comes to salving our feelings.
The bottom line, “Don’t feel bad” or “Don’t feel sad” is the start of teaching a child that what they are feeling is wrong!
I will challenge you to think this through. Most likely we are ingrained not to trust our own feelings, and therefore we do not know how to acknowledge and trust our child’s feelings. One of the greatest gifts we can give our child is to work on our own grief! From this, we start to heal and can share that with our children as we all bumble around in this thing called life…
For more on children and grief please see the book When Children Grieve.