18 April 2014

Kids grieve too

It's true that kids are more resilient than adults. I feel like too often though, people don't realize that kids grieve too. They feel the pain of a loss, they hurt, they miss loved ones, they suffer. They go through all of this and do it without the ability adults have to adequately verbalize or even recognize what they're feeling and how their loss is affecting them.

This week Aurelia finished her therapy, grief counseling, whatever it should be called. I think the most benefit came for us in learning how to help her talk about her grief. Daniel and I were with her for her play therapy sessions and we learned how to help a child grieve a loss. They have difficulty expressing their pain, so they need their parents to guide them in talking about it. Kids also need a lot of repetition and will ask the same questions over and over again, not needing a different answer, just needing to hear the same answer reaffirmed.

It's been so hard watching her get so uncharacteristically upset, collapsing in an overwhelming fit of tears when she doesn't understand and can't explain why. A three year old doesn't have the ability to recognize and say "I'm not really throwing a fit because my blanket is wrong, I'm upset because my brother and I shared this blanket and he's not here to use it anymore. I'm upset because I miss him, this reminds me of him and I want him here." Instead it's tears and disproportionate fits that seem completely nuts, even for a child.

A lot of helping a child grieve is helping them express themselves and their grief in a way the does work for them developmentally. For Aurelia, one way is play therapy with her babydolls. It's telling us how she doesn't trust anyone else to take care of (hold) her dolls because "they won't be okay". We play with her babies in a lot of the same ways we played with and cared for Noah, and we talk about situations with her babies that help her express some of her feelings and some of her loss.

Kids need a lot of repetition and grieving is no different. A few days ago Aurelia and I were sitting in the living room and out of nowhere she asked "Mama, did Noah die?" I told her "He did". She looked down, crinkled her mouth like she didn't like that answer, then said with a heavy breath, "and now he's in heaven." She knows Noah died. She knows that. But she needed to hear it again, she needed to ask again. 

Her therapist said that at this point, because she's this young, what is going to be the best help for her is just having the kind of parents who would think to provide her with grief counseling. I thought that was sweet of her. What she meant though is that what is going to help most with her grieving is being aware of her. Being aware of what's normal for her and what has changed. What will help is being patient and calm with meltdowns, understanding that there is a lot more behind them than simply "being a 3 year old". It also means being aware that children do grieve, and that we have to pull ourselves together and be strong enough to help her through her grief while healing from our own.

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