Chapter 2: Modelling grief

Ideas for modelling grief

I've been there
Kelly talks about Max not liking to see her sadness.(3:22)Video transcript
I've been there
Cath describes learning about grief and being sad as a childhood lesson.(3:22)Video transcript
The expert says
Andrea Warnick, children's grief therapist, provides suggestions for how to model grief. (3:22)Video transcript

Jacob really didn't like to see me cry. I had to give lots of reassurance that tears are healthy, and I could still take care of him even though I was very sad.

Be a role model

Children learn healthy ways of grieving by watching the adults around them.

  • Share with your child the ways that help you calm and soothe yourself.
    • Since everyone grieves differently, these activities can range from having some quiet time to talking to friends or family to digging in the garden to taking an energetic bike ride.
  •  Show your own emotions.
    • It’s okay to cry in front of your child.
    • If this upsets them, reassure them you’re still able to care for them. 

“Don’t Cry” 

Many children find it difficult to see parents and other adults express grief, especially through crying. They may ask you not to cry in front of them. 

  • Let your child know that grief includes many feelings such as sad, mad, worried, relieved and exhausted. 
  • Reassure them that these feelings are natural and healthy reactions. So is expressing those feelings in various ways such as crying. 
  • Explain that crying can help to release some of the feelings that are inside, and often people feel calmer afterwards.  
  • Let them know that while crying comes naturally to some, not everyone cries. This doesn’t mean they don’t care as much about the person who is dying or has died – they just express their feelings differently. 

The tearful response

Children often don’t share their feelings and questions because they worry they'll make you feel sadder.

  • If you find yourself weeping in response to a question or comment, let them know:
    • It’s the illness or death that makes you sad, not what they said.
    • They don’t need to fix or take away your sad feelings.
    • Sharing thoughts and feelings about what has happened helps you. It also allows you to support each other.
    • It helps you to know how they’re feeling too. 
  • Reassure your children that even though you’re grieving, you’re still able to take care of them. 
  • Empower children by suggesting ways to be with you when you're upset – such as hug you, bring Kleenex or water, or just be with you. 

The angry or impatient response

If you have an angry outburst, or find yourself becoming impatient easily, talk with your child when you feel calmer.

  • Begin with an apology.
  • Explain that sometimes you're angry or impatient because the person has died (or is ill) - and this anger can come out in other places. 
  • Since children do this too, it's a good opportunity to teach them about these responses and to model healthier ways to care for anger and impatience. For example:
    • Screaming into a pillow.
    • Hitting a punching bag or pillow.
    • Taking up an activity such as dancing, yoga or running that helps to release the feelings. 

Counselling and group support

Let your children know if you seek out counselling to help you deal with this death. This is another way to model your grief, showing them that:

  • It’s okay to ask for professional support.
  • Counselling and group support can be helpful when life is difficult.