Advice from Claire: How to Support a Grieving Child
Are you looking for guidance as you try and comfort a child who is grieving? Claire gives you some tips on developmentally-appropriate ways to help a grieving child. Plus, she answers a question from a listener who is struggling to forgive herself for her affair.
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Claire Bidwell-Smith 00:00
How do we help children who are grieving? I get this question all the time. And it’s such a tough one.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 00:05
I’m Claire Bidwell Smith. And that’s what we’re talking about today on new day. Even though it’s a part of life, it’s just really hard to see a kid experience loss. Most of us aren’t sure what the right thing to do or say is, are we supposed to talk about it with them? Or are we just supposed to pretend like life is normal? What’s going to hurt them? What’s going to help them? The first thing to know is that kids don’t grieve the same way adults do. They’re literally not developmentally capable of processing a loss the same way that a fully mature person can and does. So you won’t see kids experienced the kind of normal range of emotions that adults do. And that can be confusing. But that’s because grief evolves along the different timeline for kids. As they mature, they continue to grieve. So even if they don’t seem to understand the loss or to appear sad or angry, you’re likely to see these emotions emerge in time as they keep growing. So it’s important to meet kids where they are developmentally. If they’re very young, you may not see a huge range of emotions. Or it might even seem like the kid isn’t thinking about the loss. And in some ways they aren’t. Because in a lot of ways, they just can’t, but that’s okay. Again, as they continue to age and grow, they’ll eventually be able to connect with their grief and process the loss, sometimes even years down the road. For young kids keep things simple. Make sure they know you’re available to listen and that they feel like they can ask any questions they have or say anything they’re thinking or feeling even if it sounds weird. When answering questions, use simple and direct phrases that are very literal, so that there’s very little room for misinterpretation. And remember that it’s also okay for you to not know all the answers to their questions, especially big ones, like where’s grandma now, offer them ideas or ask them what they think. Books, play therapy, and children’s grief camps are all great ways to help them engage in their grief and process the loss. For older kids 10 years and above, it’s still just as important to be making sure they have space to grieve and that they feel like they can talk about it whenever and however they want. Again, it might not happen on the kind of timeline you’re expecting. In fact, you may see a lack of emotion initially, but that’s okay. Don’t push them to grieve. But do let them know that you’re there for them when they’re ready. Therapy and support groups are great for older kids, especially since their whole worlds revolve around their peers. Finding other kids that can relate to as they’re going through loss can help them feel less alone. I do think it’s important not to shield kids of any age from death and grief. When we do this, we send a message that it’s not okay to feel sad or confused or angry. Furthermore, trying to shield them from death just lends itself to more of those feelings anyway. So it’s really important to role model healthy grieving. It’s okay for kids to see adults cry, to see us feel sad and to see a struggle. This is part of life and the earlier we learn to move through these emotions the healthier will be, I definitely think it’s more than okay for children and older kids and teens to attend funerals, and any and all kinds of memorial services or celebrations of life. Rituals are an important part of the grieving process and can really help all of us no matter what age process the loss and connect to our grief in healthy ways. In general, helping a kid find ways to memorialize, honor, and create rituals around their loss will be enormously helpful. This could look like finding ways to honor the person they lost by continuing activities and traditions. And it could also look like helping them create memory boxes or photo books, or even simply reserving time each week or month to talk about their person. Lastly, remember that if you’re supporting a child who’s grieving, you’re probably grieving too. I urge you to make space for your grief, find support, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The more you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be able to support the child. For a really comprehensive list of grief resources and books for kids. You can visit the grief resource directory on my website, clairebidwellsmith.com.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 04:08
Today’s question is from a listener who chose to stay anonymous. If you have a question for me, but are worried about having your name attached to it. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out my online form at bit.ly/newdayask and sign your name is anonymous. Today’s anonymous listener writes, here’s the short version. My husband and I were in a slump living separate lives almost, only thing in common where our kids so marital vows were broken once huge mistake, but in the long run made our marriage stronger. My husband says he’s forgiven me, but how do I forgive myself? How do I let it stay in the past and stop beating myself up over it? Hi, anonymous, big question. Big dilemma. I think many different people would have many different takes on this one but I’m just going to give you my take. Infidelity is tricky territory on so many levels. It’s also really common, and it’s been happening for centuries. But you’re right, that it’s really hard to work through and all kinds of stuff can linger as a result. I have a few thoughts. I want to start with your last line first, you wrote, how do you let it stay in the past and stop beating yourself up. I don’t think you do either of those things, whatever transpired, even if it’s over as part of your life now, and always will be. So I think trying to shove it down into some dark, murky place, it’s kind of impossible. Instead, and this may sound weird, maybe try to embrace it. Let it be part of your life experience, if there were aspects of it that were pleasurable or memorable. Let that be okay and true. letting those things be true doesn’t mean you wish you hadn’t hurt your husband, or that you don’t want to be with him now, both can be true at the same time. But I think denying or trying to erase any feelings you might have about the affair can be equally harmful. You say you want to stop beating yourself up, you want to forgive yourself. But forgiveness comes with self-compassion. And with time, a lot of time. It’s not something that happens overnight. And forgiveness doesn’t mean giving yourself a pass on doing something wrong. It means understanding why you did it, forgiving the parts of yourself that were suffering and finding compassion for the person you are today as a result, there are a lot of reasons why we struggle to forgive ourselves. So that’s what I want you to concentrate on here. What would it look like to forgive yourself? Close your eyes and imagine a world and a life in which you’ve done this? What does it feel like? Who are you? What’s your marriage like now that you’ve forgiven yourself, doing this exercise might provide some insight into what it is you’re still holding on to that’s causing you to feel unable to forgive yourself. Sometimes we hold on to guilt as a way of holding on to something else, as a way of holding on to something that’s lost. Sometimes we hold on to guilt, and we can’t find forgiveness because we’re not actually ready to move forward. You said your marriage is stronger and your husband has forgiven you. But are you truly happy moving forward with him? That’s probably a really hard question to ask yourself when you might not even want to know the answer to. But it’s probably also the most important question. I know you said you were giving me the short story. So I definitely don’t know all the details here. But pulling out of a pretty severe marital slump isn’t easy. So I’m wondering if you really have, it sounds like it was pretty rough. And I’m wondering what kind of work you guys have done to make your relationship stronger. Basically, I’m wondering if there’s more work to do, because my feeling is that if you’re really truly solid and fulfilled in your marriage, now, you might be able to move on and forgive a little easier. But if things still aren’t great, then there might be some other things at play. Either you guys need to do more couples therapy or do some altogether if you haven’t, or you need to think about how it’s going in the marriage for you. And if you’re really feeling like you’re back on track and ready to embrace this next chapter together. If you’re really committed to going back to your marriage, then it is time to forgive yourself. But again, doing this work has to start with self-compassion. Check out my episode with Dr. Kristin Neff for a good dose of what that can look like. I also really recommend Esther Perez, the state of affairs book for some thoughts and insights about why we have affairs and how to move forward from them. One of my favorite quotes from that book is this one. Sometimes when we seek the gaze of another it isn’t our partner we’re turning away from but the person we have become. We’re not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves. Whatever version of yourself, you’re seeking anonymous, give yourself some love. Thanks for listening today. Make sure you come back on Wednesday; I’m going to dive into the topic of psychedelic therapy. So if you haven’t subscribed to NEW DAY yet, do that right now so you never miss an episode.
NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show was produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. New Day is produced in partnership with the well-being trust the Jed foundation and Education Development Center. Thanks for listening.