When it comes to losing a beloved pet, or even worse, loved ones like a parent, sibling, or grandparent, we all feel it emotionally.
Often the hardest part of accepting the loss is allowing yourself to feel the depth of your emotions. In this article, I want to share about a loss from a child’s perspective.
Your child is going to experience loss many times in their life. For them, leaving kindergarten to go to another grade will feel like a loss, as they believe that they won’t see their best friend or teachers ever again. If they move from one school to another, again they will experience an emotional loss, for similar reasons.
When a beloved pet dies, in their mind they know that they won’t see their pet ever again. This loss will be tangible for them.
Losing a loved one, especially a parent, can be tough for children to understand. The loss will be real for the child when the parent isn’t there to tuck them into bed at night or make their lunch for them every morning. For smaller children, they will notice that person they felt familiar with is now missing from their routine.
Why am I speaking about loss, when it seems so obvious? Well, at an intellectual level, we often know that we have suffered a loss, and yet at the emotional level, we do not acknowledge our feelings associated with it.
Coping with the Transition —
In this fast-paced world where we think we need to fill every day and don’t have time to stop, the most important thing you can do for your child is to take time for them. With this change in their life, they will travel through three different emotional states. None of which operate linearly. One day your child may be in one space, and the next day in a different one. All of it is okay and also very normal.
The first space they will find themselves in is ‘the end zone,’ or their grief space. Here, in this space, they will experience shock, anger, denial, sadness, and fear. What might this look like for your child?
Some Examples Include:
They may become very quiet and go inside. They may not respond for a little while.
Your child may hit out at you physically, or get angry at you verbally for the smallest and most trivial things
In these moments your child will be asking you “When is Mommy coming back?”
Those weepy times when your child will physically cry and be upset. They may or may not be able to explain to you ‘why’ they are so upset. They will simply BE upset.
For little ones, you may even hear stories from them about how sad teddy or their favourite toy is feeling.
Here you will notice them telling you they can’t do something that they have done regularly in the past. You may notice that they are more clingy and wanting you around a lot more than usual.
Children may experience nightmares too. Their subconscious will be dealing with their fears of the loss and what that means for them.
Allow Your Child to Grieve —
Supporting your child to express their emotions freely is the best thing you can do, no matter how hard this may be for you to experience. Emotions, after all, are our reaction to what we are thinking. If we believe that the person is no longer there, we will feel sad. Let your child cry and be angry. Talk to them about their feelings of loss.
Letting them express their emotions and talking to them about how they are feeling are the best ways to support anyone through their transition or emotional journey.
Allow Yourself to Grieve —
The other thing that you can do to support your child is to allow yourself to express your emotions. If they notice you crying and can talk to you about your feelings of sadness about the loss, they will feel more open and free to speak to you about how they are feeling.
You will be traveling your grief journey your way, especially if the person you have lost is your partner, parent, or child. Having experienced losing a child myself, I allowed myself to grieve. What I noticed was that my other child was struggling, and yet I still allowed myself to travel my grief journey, and he caught up in his own time when he was ready.
We often don’t permit ourselves to express our feelings freely.
Not expressing our feelings harms us not only physically, but also at a deeper, emotional level. Talk to your child about the loss, and don’t be afraid to share memories about the person or pet with them. Share your stories, those things that you remember doing together. Talk about a happy time when you were together, or when the other person laughed and made you feel loved. Talk about their unique way of doing things.
If it is a pet that has died, talk about the things that your beloved pet did on a daily basis. Talking about the person or pet is not disrespecting them, on the contrary, it is honouring and respecting them for having been a part of your life. Also, don’t be afraid of the emotions that may flow from the sharing. These moments of sharing grief create beautiful moments in their own right.
Once you allow your child to experience their loss and openly grieve, what you may notice next is they’ve moved to a space of uncertainty or feeling unsettled. This space is what is known as the ‘neutral zone.’ It is the place where life is not as it was, and so we aren’t sure what the future will hold without our loved one.
Sometimes during our journey, we travel back and forth between this space and the emotional grief space. That is natural.
You may also notice some days when your child plays they are happy as if they have not experienced a loss. Doing this is normal too, and shows that they are moving through their transition from having the person present and not. Meet them where they are at. Notice how they are expressing themselves and allow that to be okay, no matter what you see.
Permit yourself to travel your own journey too. Doing so will provide the best support possible for you and your child.