Years ago when hosting some teenagers during a fishing tournament, a fourteen year old struggling to understand asked me, “Miss Dana, why did my mother love drugs more than me?”
How often do we fail to recognize the hurt, the pain, the loss – the GRIEF, involved for a child when the adults in his/her life struggle with addiction and at worst, overdose? Perhaps one reason is our own feelings either as the addict or our own preoccupation as an adult in loving one. One thing many of us as adults fail to remember is this . . . children grieve too. So how do we help them?
Go First. As the adult, you are the leader. Tell the truth about how you feel. It will establish a tone of trust and safety. Recognize that grief is emotional, not intellectual, and that sad or scared feelings are normal reactions to all loss events.
Remember that each child is unique and has a unique relationship to what they hear and believe about loss.
Be Patient. Give your child time to formulate opinions. Make sure to plant healthy ideas about talking about feelings.
Listen with your heart, not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed, without judgment or criticism.
Don’t Say “Don’t Feel Scared.” Fear is the most common response to loss, for children and adults.
Don’t Say “Don’t Feel Sad.” Sadness is a healthy and normal reaction to loss.
Don’t ask your children how they are feeling. Like adults, fearful of being judged, they will automatically say, “I’m Fine, ” even though they are not.
Don’t act strong for your children. They will interpret your “non-feeling” as something they are supposed to copy.
Don’t compare their lives or situations to others in the world. Comparison always minimizes feelings.
Don’t make promises that you cannot keep. Instead of saying “Everything’s going to be okay,” say, “We’ll do everything we can to be safe.”
Don’t forget that your children are very smart. Treat them and their feelings with respect and dignity as you would like to be treated by others.
To learn more about children and grief, please read our book When Children Grieve