Helping parents understand their grieving child and giving them what they need.
A boy is walking next to his mother, back hunched, heavy feet, his chest is dragging towards the ground. She hesitates, lifts her arm behind him to place it around his shoulder, before decidedly placing it back down, as if nothing had happened. She gazes towards the sky, hoping the answer to their breaking relationship could be found in the distance. The silence between them has grown so strong that she can hear the echo of her pacing heartbeat as they pass a chocolate store that used to make him jump with bright eyes.
He recently lost interest in the sports he used to love, he prefers to stay in his room than to see his friends, school has become a field of irritation and he frequently gets angry at his mother over triggers that she struggles to identify.
This all started after his father passed away due to a terminal illness.
See how his clenched fists are whispering, trying to squeeze out the rage from inside his stomach. Listen to his smile that is fading, as he puts all the energy he has in digesting the reality of the loss.
He wishes he could find a way to fill the emptiness in his heart. His guilt convinces him that he has not told his father enough, how much he loves him.
He doesn’t know what to do with all these unclear messages that go through his body and spine.
He shuts down and pushes his mother away, as he is tied by the fear of losing her too. Paradoxically, the one thing he wants the most is her reassurance that she is there for him, that he is not alone in this world.
This is the shadow of many children who’ve lost someone that’s dear to them. This could be a family member, a friend, a teacher, that's left through death, separation or transition.
Children may not show their feelings of grief with words, and may rather tend to express these through behaviors. However, this doesn’t say less about their sorrow.
If there’s one advice I could offer to parents, from my clinical experience of working with loss and bereavement with children and adolescents, it would be to make time to be with your child.
Offer your presence, be available emotionally and open to their experience with acceptance and understanding. These can go a long way in helping children find a sense of stability, consistency and safety in a period of change and uncertainty.
As a parent, you can become the eyes that notice the signals of grief in your child. Take hold of the opportunity to support them through this challenging experience.
Sarah Bilodeau is a Dramatherapist, contact her for more information, https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-bilodeau-77670116/