Lots of mums have brought their kids to Sparky and Shady to help them find ways to cope with the loss of their father. Not loss as in dead, loss as in the relationship between the parents has broken down and the dad has left home.
Statistically this is likely to happen to half of our kids before they finish high school. https://aifs.gov.au/publications/modern-australian-family
If your child has suffered any type of loss or trauma, which could include;
• separation of parents and family break-up
• the death of a family member, friend or pet
• change of schools or moving house
• loss of a friendship
• relocating to a new country
• having an accident, disability or illness
• having a family member sick or in hospital for a long time
• experiencing war, violence, threats of violence or uncertainty over safety
• experiencing physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse (including bullying)
then their instinctive human response is to immediately protect themselves from further hurt or harm. This is a natural and normal part of the grief response (shock and denial), however when the time is right, it is important to help children move on from here so they don’t get stuck with ‘baggage’ (unhelpful beliefs about their loss) and ‘repressed’ or ‘bottled up’ feelings.
Grief is the process that all human beings have the opportunity to go through when we have lost something in our lives (if we choose not to go through it, we get ‘stuck’). Depending on the school of thought you follow, grief stages include; shock, denial, bargaining, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/supersurvivors/201707/why-the-five-stages-grief-are-wrong
It is important to realise that the painful feelings we experience in grief accompany any significant loss, not just the death of a loved one.
If children are supported to process their grief in an open and honest way they will get past shock and denial and naturally experience the other feelings. These feelings or stages are unlikely to occur in order and just when you think they are done, some anger, sadness or even denial may come back again. Feelings of sadness, helplessness and experiences of bedwetting, nightmares, reverting to childish behaviours such as tantrums, and extreme anxiety can last for months and are also considered normal.
From my experience, the most important thing to do as a parent or support person for a child, is to deal with our own grief and our own fears about grief.
Children know when we are scared. If we react to their fearful thoughts or feelings in a Shady way, for example, we yell at them, tell them ‘not to cry’, to ‘go away’, ‘get over it’, or ‘learn to live with it’, then they know we not in a position to support them with their pain.
Physical pain is scary but emotional pain is way scarier! That sharp, inner, slicing of the heart and throat, that deep heavy weight in the gut, and the darkness of utter hopelessness and helplessness that we experience as a result of loss is felt by children too.
Children need to know that this is NORMAL and that they are not alone, that we are there for them no matter what and that we know how to support them.
Children also need to know that we are not scared of grief (ours or theirs), nor are we scared of the shady behaviours our children may be exhibiting in an attempt to deal with their grief. (They do this subconsciously, which means they are not doing it on purpose for attention.)
So how do you support a grieving child in three steps?
• Love them no matter what
• Model how to deal with painful thoughts and feelings by talking about your Shady thoughts and expressing your own painful feelings respectfully and vulnerably (that means letting your kids see you cry – dads this is especially important!) (In Sparky and Shady language this is called taking a ‘Pit Stop’.)
• Encourage your child to talk about their Shady thoughts and to cry to express their painful feelings (take a Pit Stop).
Why is crying so important? Crying is a lot like pooing. Pooing gets rid of physical waste, crying gets rid of emotional waste.
All experts agree that the grief process is painful and that to reach acceptance we MUST feel our pain, same for our kids!
Whatever your child is grieving, they will ultimately be okay because they still have you (and Sparky!)
PS More on kids’ grief here https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/should-i-be-concerned/children-and-grief
What’s on – I’m taking bookings for July Holiday Workshops. If you would like to join us with one or two children (I let go of the one adult, one child rule just recently) here are the dates:
6-9 yrs Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th July
9-12 yrs Thursday 19th and Friday 20th July
More info here sparkyandshady.com/upcoming-events/
If you have been to a workshop or after school class before it is half price. Logically then, if you are bringing two kids the second one comes for half price. Yell out if you want to book in!