We all have to deal with grief in some shape or form and for kids this can be tough. How do we look after our kids and their grief? Our resident health and well-being expert, Lou Hamilton speaks of her experience.
When I was eight my best friend fell at the hands of bullies, and died. He wasn’t just my best friend, he was my soul mate. How as a kid do you even begin to absorb the shock of such a loss? All I remember is my dad telling me to save a little corner of my heart just for my friend. I did that. It didn’t quell my pain, loss and tears but it gave me a harbor for my grief. My friend had physically left us but in that protected place in my heart our shared innocent love stayed alive. And when I look at the photo his mum recently sent me of the two of us together I can still feel him and his bright spirit. Simple words from my dad all those years ago helped me make my way through the trauma. He gave me a tool. It was a gift for life.
The trauma of losing a loved one is terrible for everyone but grief is different for kids. For an adult, it might feel like a never-ending storm but kids don’t tend to feel grief all the time; for them it’s more like sporadic rain downpours. In between times they get very busy or they find ways to be quiet. During the recent festive period and other occasions, those emotional downpours may feel more intense. What helps is the process of honoring the person who has passed.
During the Mexican Day of the Dead children and adults alike make a great show of love and respect for their lost loved ones. The rituals and celebrations are to keep the memory of those gone, alive in spirit. A kid needs a way to express the tumble of emotion, so that they can work through the process, so that the pain doesn’t become brittle scar tissue in their minds. They need explanation and information, and they need to funnel their feelings into something tangible. They may not want to sit down and talk, but doing something creative with them like decorating the Christmas tree together gives them a focus, an expression and an opportunity to talk if they want to. A gift for their grief, to put under the tree could be a beautifully bound journal. In it you can encourage them to write down their feelings; maybe even letters to the person they’ve lost. This journal is their sanctuary.
The body takes a battering when the traumatic loss of a loved one strikes. A child may be wracked with tears, or withdraw into their body like a shield against the world. They may not even seem to be processing the waves of pain coursing through their nerves, cells and senses. To you it may appear they’re handling it just fine. Don’t be fooled. Sometimes kids want to protect you from your grief, not burden you with theirs so they stay schtum. But underneath the river runs wild. If they don’t want to talk, you can help them by giving their bodies what they need: food that calms their mind and strengthens their immune system and healing.
One of the worst culprits for crashing the body and a child’s already fragile mental state, is sugar.
To handle the months ahead they need to be physically strong. One of the worst culprits for crashing the body and a child’s already fragile mental state, is sugar. But at Christmas it’s nearly impossible to avoid. At least you can counterbalance the toxic rush with gentler tonics: Brazil nuts, oily fish (or algae omega-3 supplements for vegans), oats, bananas, lentils, turkey (for non-vegans), spinach, anything with calcium, dark chocolate and water, are all good mood-foods. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-eating/a25845/11-mood-boosting-foods/. There are also soothing, warm herbal drinks that can help your grieving child. Nettle, chamomile, cinnamon and perhaps to make it a little more palatable for young taste buds you can add some honey. (For further recipes for making grief tea https://theherbalacademy.com/herbal-grief-tea/ What greater a gift for grief than soothing the body with calming foods and warming drinks.
Love, in a small gesture, a hug, a little bit of praise or encouragement is a powerful gift for helping to steady the shaky ground on which a grieving child finds themselves. All sense of stability is shattered when they experience death. Everything they knew to be safe and secure is cracked apart. But the open expression of love is a holding place, in which something resembling meaning can start to find life again. When wildfires decimate forests, homes, animals, you could easily believe that the ravaged earth will never recover from its blackened scars. But with the right conditions, little by little, a leaf sprouts, animals return and life reasserts its energy. And the same with grief; we can’t deny death, but we can infuse those who are affected by it, with understanding and with the acknowledgment of the powerful force of their feelings. For the religious they have prayer, for the rest of us we must find our own channels for creating solace. This can be through sitting with a child in a simple meditation or quiet time. When their pain is unbearable, it can be through a warm embrace or the act of slow, deep breathing together. When the time is right it can be through honoring and celebrating the person that has passed. For a child at Christmas or special holidays that might mean creating a memory gift box of special things that have a particular significance and connection with that person. When a child creates a gift like this they are learning the art of self-care and self-love; and upon that they can begin to heal and grow.
The charity Young Minds UK offers further information in supporting children and young people through bereavement and other mental health issues.
Lou Hamilton is an artist, writer, filmmaker, wellbeing coach & author of Brave New Girl- how to be Fearless.