helping children grieve

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


By far, the worst thing about sending Baby D home has been watching our children grieve and attempting to help them wade through all those big feelings. We’re in no way experts on this grief and children thing, but we’ve been developing a bit of an ethos surrounding the subject.

Part of the broadening of our perspectives has been because we have so many children, and they grieve in such different ways. Personality plays a big role, age plays a big role, and we’re just learning it as we go along. This is exactly the way we hoped to be parenting our children. Not that we want them to experience pain, but we do know that they will experience pain. We want them to go through hard things while they’re still with us. They can watch us model how to go through difficulties in a healthy way, and we can guide them through healthy expressions of their own grief.

We have quite the spectrum of reactions amongst our children – one is melancholy, one is a stuffer, one shuts down, and the other one is…well…she deals with any kind of stress with nearly total dysregulation. We have quite a few different ideas and tricks that we’re attempting with each individual child to help them grieve in their own ways.

One of the more important things we’ve done is to ask for outside help. We contacted our school-aged kids’ teachers to let them know what was going on at home in hopes that if they noticed something at school, they would have greater understanding and be able to contact us when appropriate. This worked particularly well for our ‘stuffer’ child. She operates mostly on the surface, real feelings are shoved way down. She’s highly passionate and emotional, but deep stuff? No thank you. Her teacher encouraged her to email her at home the day Baby D left, and my sweet, sensitive, still waters run deep daughter wrote her the most heart-wrenching, beautifully expressed email. It was exactly what she needed to do in that moment, and I am unbelievably grateful for this teacher and her heart to help my daughter.

We’ve stepped up therapeutic interventions for our younger two. Brenden had kind of graduated from therapy for awhile, but we’re back at regular visits and regular therapy times at home as well. Niah will be back on the horses next week, which is a welcome relief given her overwhelmingly positive reaction to hippotherapy.

One of the other things we’ve done is encourage the kids to channel their grief in healthy ways. For the melancholy, this has been particularly challenging. He wasn’t sleeping, he was spending all night crying, and he was overwhelmed with negative emotions. It’s been a struggle to get him to recognize that while all of those negative emotions are perfectly ok, he cannot be controlled by them. He has to work them out. He can do that spiritually – through prayer, music, etc., he can do that physically – through exercise, healthy sleep habits, and he can do that relationally – continuing to be open with his reactions to us and to others. Watching us do the same sorts of things has been highly beneficial to him. We have to balance what he observes from us even as he sees us struggle with the raw pain of it. He has seen us cry, lean on one other, talk about the grief, and then he has seen us deal with all of that through healthy habits like exercise, eating right, sleeping well, taking time for prayer and solitude.

We’ve maintained an open atmosphere for talking about Baby D and how we feel about his move. We have pictures up; we have a copy of his lifebook for everyone to look at; we talk with regularity about the happy things we remember from when he lived with us. Our children continue to grieve in their own ways – one of them developed a physical tic, one of them uses pretend-play to continue to remember and interact with Baby D, one of them continues to be our talker, and the other one deals by writing and drawing out her pain.

It’s hard. It continues to be hard. One thing we’re certain of though is that it is right. We did exactly what we were supposed to do, exactly when we were supposed to do it. Our kids are in complete agreement. Even when they’re feeling the most sad and frustrated with the situation, they, without exception, express joy over Baby D’s place in our family and hope that we will continue to do this in the future.


Have you helped your children grieve something big? Or small? This post just began to touch on some of the things we’ve done, and I’d love to hear more ideas on ways to help them process.

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