Nothing is quite as warm and nurturing as a healthy relationship between a child and grandparent. When a beloved grandparent passes away, many children are understandably devastated, but may not be able to express their anguish in ways that adults can understand. We spoke with developmental psychologist Dr. Nancy Buck to hear her take on childhood grief and bereavement and how parents can help kids cope with the painful loss of a grandparent.
Sometimes, parents are surprised that even young children have a full range of emotions when dealing with loss, because they often process emotions differently than adults. "Understanding that children experience grief and loss is the first important step for parents," said Dr. Buck. Once you realize that your child is grieving — even if it manifests differently than adult grief — you'll be better prepared to appropriately manage your child's feelings and questions.
According to Dr. Buck, it's equally important for parents to realize that children process their emotions through play. "Children will spend a great deal of time playing and engaging in their usual activities following a loss," said Dr. Buck. "This doesn't mean that the child's feelings of loss are less. Children process these feelings differently, often incorporating facts and feelings into make-believe play." Play should never be discouraged during times of bereavement; instead, watch your children for any feelings that arise out of play so that you can provide appropriate comfort.
Of course, the loss of a grandparent is felt very differently between a toddler and a teenager. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you engage with your bereaved child:
Dr. Buck was clear that there are several parenting techniques to keep in mind following the death of a grandparent, regardless of your child's age:
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