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5 tips to help your child deal with grief


January 19, 2022 Mental Health


Par Audrey Fortin

Psychosocial worker

The number of bereavements we experience in a lifetime is higher than we might think. The death of a loved one, a break-up, the loss of a job, illness, a move, the death of a pet, etc. These losses and transitions bring on the grieving process, sometimes painfully.

The period of adaptation and letting go that accompanies grief allows us, with time, to ease the pain felt and move on without the person or thing that has been lost. Although grief is universal, each person experiences it in their own way. Thus, no miracle solution will speed up the process. However, there are five things we can do on a daily basis to help our young person go through the grieving process more smoothly.

1. Encourage them to feel their emotions

Emotions need to be experienced and expressed for the grieving process to be resolved. Repressing difficult emotions or keeping them to yourself may delay the healing process. The pain felt is temporary and will gradually fade. Although it may be difficult at first, it will be important to remind your child that this state is temporary. It's also important to help your child avoid dwelling in remorse and guilt. Doing so may cause further and unnecessary hurt. Let's encourage them to cry when they are sad and give them the right to vent their anger when they feel angry 

2. Remind them that they are surrounded by supportive loved ones 

In difficult times, being alone is rarely advisable. Instead, encourage your teen to surround themselves with people they feel comfortable with and where they feel welcomed and heard. Keeping up with dinners, outings, and activities with family and friends will be important for your young person. These lighter moments will give him a chance to take their mind off things. Their love and support will also act as a balm to their pain. Professional help may also be needed. In some cases, an early consultation is recommended to prevent certain complications linked to a more difficult bereavement.

When grieving, it is helpful to simply listen, without judgment, to allow the person to express their emotions.

3. Helping your loved one to take care of themselves

While grieving, it may seem easier to let oneself go and neglect one's mental and physical health. However, you need to help your child gather their energy and try to continue to take care of themselves every day. This might mean taking a day or two off from school or work. Your teen can take advantage of this time to get a massage or simply take a walk in nature. Yoga, meditation, reading, painting, or any other activity that brings them calm and peace is helpful. Sleeping well and eating well will also be an important key to their recovery. Sleeping well and eating well will also be an important key to his recovery.

4. Accompany your child in rituals and rites of passage

Rituals help bridge the gap between what was before and what will be now. These are often ceremonies that allow for gathering and reflection. Some religious and spiritual rituals are more common and familiar to many of us, however, there is nothing preventing your family creating your own traditions and legacies with your children, should that feel more comfortable and appropriate. The goal is to bring back beautiful memories and gradually make room for new happy moments. It can be making an album of favorite photos, writing a letter or a story, preparing a small box of personal effects, placing a framed photo in the living room, acquiring an object (a piece of art, a plant...) that will remind your child of his loved one. They are free to imagine how they want to honor and keep this important memory from the past alive.

5. Give him time

Each mourning is unique, so it is essential to respect your child’s rhythm. Grief is often compared to a roller coaster. There will be good days and bad days, and there will be ups and downs. The first few days and weeks may be the most difficult. Each first time without the missing loved one will be emotionally charged. Anniversaries are often painful at first, but with time that pain will give way to joyful memories. Thus, overcoming the scary, hard feelings will create space to welcome new, joyful ones. But no need to rush… when we don’t address our feelings, sooner or later they will catch up to us.

The most important thing is...

The best person to tell you what your child needs is your child. However, there may be times when they don’t even know themselves. In these moments, just offering to be there and to listen will be greatly appreciated. Avoid minimizing and judging the intensity of your teen’s grief.  Simply listening without judgment will open the door for them to express their pain and fears and share their memories. If you find yourself at a loss for words after they’ve confided in you, know that a gentle look or a big hug is sometimes better than a thousand words.

References (in French)

Le Repos Saint-François D’Assise, L’essentiel sur Le deuil
Optima Santé globale, 2014, Document de référence, Comprendre et vivre le deuil
CISSS des Iles, Des réactions normales lors d'un deuil
Tel-jeunes, Vivre un deuil
Deuil jeunesse