By Pamela Adams
A child's coping skills are molded by the gains and losses that he experiences in life. Gains are easy to identify, but what defines a loss for a child? A child's loss is not limited to the death of a family member, friend, or pet. Divorce, health problems, or a parent serving in the military can also represent a sense of loss to a child. Consider the following when helping a child to navigate his grief journey:
You must take good care of yourself, too!
As you encourage a child to take care of himself, you must take care of yourself, too. How well a child copes with the loss depends on how well you cope with the loss. You are the role model and you set the stage for the recovery.
A child can be a source of comfort for you.
You can get so caught up in trying to make a child feel better that you forget that he can help you to feel better as well. Don't you like the warm and fuzzy feeling that you get when you curl up with or hug a child? And when that child realizes that he is being helpful to you, his self-esteem soars!
Talking is good, but listening is better.
The more a child talks about the loss, the more real the loss will become for him. The more real the loss becomes, the quicker he will accept the loss. Remember that it is more important for you to listen than it is for you to talk. When you are a good listener, you give the child an opportunity to talk through his feelings. As a bonus, you can keep tabs on how well the child is actually doing.
Don't minimize a child's loss.
What may seem trivial to you and me may be important to a child. If the loss upsets a child, then obviously what he lost meant something to him. Don't say, "it was just a toy" or "we can get you another one." Regardless of how tragic you perceive the loss to be, a child needs to be reassured that his feelings are okay. Help the child to understand that his feelings are his friends and that they will help him to feel better over time.
It is important to have realistic expectations.
The effects of a loss might last a year...maybe three...could be five...or probably a lifetime. This is as definite a time frame as I can give you. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say, "Hang on. Only ______ more months to go!"? But one thing is for sure...a child will not get over his loss overnight.
If a child loses a close family member, he may become afraid of losing other family members or friends as well...and with good reason (especially if a child has lost a parent). Reassure him that you love him and that you will do everything in your power to keep from leaving him. A grieving child has a long, hard grief journey ahead. Whether or not he does his grief work, he will arrive at his destination. But the degree of personal growth and happiness that he finds there is ultimately up to him.
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