Since the suicide of beloved Robin Williams‘ last week, magazines, as is the case, have featured him on the covers with daily reports on the details of his death prevalent in the media. What do you say to a shorty who’s asking about Robin’s death? I’ve counseled adults whose spouses have died and they’ve shared with me how uncomfortable some people, even the most well-meaning, can be talking about death when their loved ones have died. They’ve said that some people act as though they’re afraid of catching death. (This sense of contagion can also be the case when couples divorce). The children I’ve counseled expressed their grief in different ways just as adults do. When supported, children, and adults, are able to fully experience and move through their feelings rather than getting stuck in them. Most importantly, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. No judgment.
There is no expiration time with grief. Sometimes people allow themselves little access to their feelings because they believe they’re too big for them to feel and years or decades later begin feeling the grief. From my experience with the death of my father, mother and my bonus father and mother, grief comes in waves. My dad made his transition in 1997 when I was not a parent. My mother, father-in-law, and mother-in-law died within 6 months of each other from September 2007-March 2008. Our daughter was 6 turning 7 and their deaths were very hard on her as she was close to all of them. She still feels the loss of her grandparents. There were a few times when it was hard for me to comfort her because I was experiencing my own grief. I didn’t hide my feelings from her yet I didn’t put them on her to handle either. I knew as the adult that I could process my feelings with my husband, a trusted friend, or, a spiritual practitioner. I made a decision to be present for her experience. What I learned as a parent of a young child walking through the death of my loved ones and my clients experiences, I wrote about in my latest Huffington Post blog.
When they come to us with questions about this topic, here are 12 Steps to Help You Talk With Your Children About Suicide:
1. Allow them to lead. Don’t presume that you know what they’re feeling. You may check in with them and ask if there’s anything they’re wanting to talk about. If they haven’t asked, they may not have heard. You may decide how and when to share the news with them if you’re concerned that they might hear it out of context from a friend or stranger.
2. How old is your child? The younger the child, the more abstract a concept death is. For younger children, too many details are overwhelming. It’s important to know your child and to know where they are developmentally and emotionally. You don’t want to “give them a suitcase that is too heavy to carry,” emotionally. The older your child, the more scary and confusing news like this can be.
3. Connection between you and your child is the true goal of the parenting. It’s important to let your children know that you are a safe, comforting space for them to share all their feelings with — the bright and shiny and the dark and murky — without judgment or impatience.
4. Don’t tell them how they should or shouldn’t feel and don’t impose your beliefs about death and eternal life on them. They live with you so they know what you believe. It cuts off connection with you when you do this, especially when they enter the tween and teen years.
To read the remaining steps of this Huffington Post article, CLICK HERE.
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Until next time, know that you are powerful beyond measure and loved beyond description. You are a force for good!
Peace and blessings,