Understanding Childhood Grief in the Holidays
As the pandemic has raged around us, we’ve all experienced some form of loss. For some of us, it’s been extreme, such as the loss of a loved one and for others, it’s been the loss of work opportunities, a graduation party, or the third grade field trip. For most, there was a loss of routine and constant new challenges. Many children have not had the opportunity to process the loss of their everyday routines, constant friendships at school, and normal school activities they didn’t get to do.
When we talk about grief and loss, we generally focus our attention on death. However, grief and loss encompass many experiences and can be expressed in many ways.
All too often, we leave children out of the conversation entirely- assuming they do not understand or because we don’t know how to explain or converse with children regarding a loss.
As we head into the holidays, it’s important to remember grief and loss impact children greatly and they are keenly aware of those losses. Maybe that loss is someone not at the dinner table- whether that’s due to death, a breakup, divorce, a family spat. Children notice & feel what’s going on around them. That loss may be less obvious- maybe it’s feeling out of place within the family or missing a pet. Maybe it’s the pain of growing up and having to leave something behind.
It’s important to remember that children express grief differently than adults- it’s not uncommon to see fits of rage/anger, inappropriate responses for their age (regression to previous or younger behaviors). Maybe it doesn’t make sense why they seem sad while at a fun event or maybe you notice your child pulling away from others and isolating themselves. These are all common reactions to grief and loss for children.
- Before a family holiday gathering, think about what might be different this year from last year- is there something different? Will someone be missing from a gathering? Let’s prepare your child for those changes through conversations about what will be different.
- Allow space for your child to talk about their losses and process their feelings with you. Let them ask questions. It’s okay if you don’t have the answers! Just let them know you’re still learning too and hopefully, you can navigate this together.
- Offer your child support and understanding – even if it doesn’t make sense to you!
If you have lost someone in your family, either through death or a different separation, it can be helpful to talk to a professional about ways to have these conversations with your child.