Losing a loved one, a relationship, physical disability or serious illness can create feelings of intense sadness and anger. For children, this can be problematic, because they don’t always have the emotional tools needed to express their feelings. You may be able to help them, however, by using these 3 steps (along with some art based activities):
Step 1: Encourage them to identify how they are feeling.
Behavior is an indicator how a child is handling thoughts and emotions. As a caring adult, it’s your job to help them navigate those thoughts and emotions. Throughout their day, encourage your child to identify their emotions, this will help them develop habits for recognizing emotions in high stress situations.
A good way to help children identify emotions is to create an emotion journal. Take 10-20 mins with some art supplies and discuss your child’s day. When a topic comes up they are interested in, encourage them to draw, write or cut out pictures that relate to any strong emotions they may be discussing.
Step 2: Validate their feelings.
You want your child to know it is okay to express emotions and you are a safe person to share with. Taking time to understand your child’s perspective, empathize and validate their feelings can help them learn healthy coping strategies. Say things like, “I understand why you feel that way; sometimes I feel that way too” or “I feel angry right now too.” This will take some practice at first, but a little empathy can go a long way.
Step 3: Provide alternatives to unhelpful behavior and encourage healthy habits.
You can be a guide to help your child grieve in healthy ways. Be honest with them about the loss, share your feelings, and model healthy coping by participating in activities that make you feel better and encouraging them to join. Take a walk together, share stories or develop anniversary rituals to help children develop a healthier relationship with loss.
Creating a memory box can also be an exceptional way for to communicate grief, and for you to relate to your child’s experiences. Decorate a box with special reminders, and fill it with notes to the person or mementos. Allowing children to participate provides a tangible way to channel feelings. It can also be a good activity that you can share to help move you through the grieving process!
Grief can be difficult, so remember not to try to handle it alone when you and your child(ren) feel overwhelmed. Seek qualified help such as the help we provide here at H3 to give yourself and your child(ren) every opportunity to experience emotional wellness!
-Eric Suter, LLPC, Art Therapist