|Teaching Children Through Grief|
Grief is a reality, a part of life. We are coming out of grief mode right now in fact. I am not quite ready to write about it in detail, but for the past six months we served as a foster family to which we recently transitioned our little girl back to her birth family. There are lots of mixed emotions but for a while we were five and now we are four again and with that comes grief. It cannot be reasoned with nor can it be controlled it just is...grief. It must be faced, it cannot be avoided, it must be tolerated because we cannot let it take over, and the children grieve too, but they must learn how and be taught how to grieve.
There are stages to grief and you cannot rush them. Sometimes these stages will cycle back around and surprise you too. They can pack quite a punch and you need to be aware and be emotionally flexible to them. Stages one through five: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. You cannot rush these stages and everyone reacts differently in every stage. One child might be angry during depression while another might be angry during the angry stage. Age and development play into these stages as well.
So, there are no perfect ways to grieve. Grief is often ugly and it appears when you least expect it. We have different personalities and different time tables to our grief. Grieving with children takes patience and prayer. This isn't the first time we have grieved, we have lost loved ones and pets, we have grieved homes and places and even sometimes things. So we kind of have some grieving activities and that is what I am going to share today. They are simple but I hope they help.
While sometimes a child may want to put a few things away when the grief is really fresh, we found when grandpa and great grandma passed away, familiar things were quite a comfort and still are. When we went through this time of grief, we put some of our relatives clothes in the dress up box for playtime. This not only served as a source of comfort but it also gave her a creative outlet for her grief. Now that she is older she likes to wear grandpas t-shirts sometimes as well as my grandma's jewelry.
Pictures and Scrapbooks
We have also found that looking at pictures and making scrapbooks was helpful but not usually right away. This is something that may need to be reserved for a few months or even a year down the road when the grief is not so fresh.
Balloon therapy is something my son initiated on his own, he is 6 and just beginning to understand the permanency of life. While balloon therapy is something that many child psychologists practice it isn't something that I even thought of on my own. One day, in the midst of his grief, when he was really still in shock and denial he asked for a pack of balloons. Balloons are not something that we normally allow in our house because they can be quite dangerous however he was so broken that I just decided to comply and I am so glad I did. What transpired was amazing! I took him to Party City where you can buy your balloons individually for $.15 each. He chose a variety of 15 balloons that we took home and blew up. He then proceeded to draw faces of varying emotions on the balloons and give them names. I suggested none of this by the way. As the week progressed he cared for his balloons until each of them "passed away." It was his way of dealing with the grief and putting it somewhere.
After this experience we began to allow water balloon play as well. This also turned out to be quite therapeutic. He was able to release some anger in a fun and constructive way and again he cared for his favorite balloons. We have found that we need to be sensitive to these 'special friends'. It is important to him that we 'respect a perimeter' around the balloons. This is normal too, this is his way of protecting his emotional triggers. While there is some controversy over emotional triggers, in general you will want to identify what really upsets your child and tread lightly in that area while the grief is fresh. For some kids it may be driving by a certain landmark and for others it might be seeing others laugh. If happiness is a trigger, by the way, it could be that they are in the depression stage of grief.
Walking and Talking
In my opinion, you cannot avoid triggers forever, you must face them slowly and gently but you must eventually face these triggers for complete healing to take place. Sometimes the triggers must be given directly to God for Divine healing. Whatever the case may be, you must keep breathing and moving, walking and talking. You cannot bottle it all up inside. Continue to talk about your loss and share your feelings and your child will eventually feel safe to do the same.
Something Old and Something New
Finally, while we are continuing to go about some normal daily activities and face our grief we also add some new things as well. We make new memories and happy places. We see a new movie, we go to a restaurant we have never been to before and maybe try a new food. We choose to embrace life. Choose life!
"Behold I am doing a new thing, can you perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the dessert." Isaiah 43:19
You may also want to read:
Building a Home Team or
Teaching Children About Failure