ASK A GRIEF COACH
Question: How Do I Help The Kids Open Up?
Answer: Create psychological safety without expectation of a return.
Ask a Grief Coach is an online column to address commonly received questions in private work with my clients. All names are kept anonymous, and the questions are shared with permission. As you read, keep the context of your own story in mind. No answers found here will apply directly to your circumstance because your grief is unique to you. However, the hope is that you will find tools and tips of support, whether you are the griever or the supporter.
Recently, my two children and I lost their father and my husband. It’s been a few months, and both of them are responding differently than I am. I’m barely able to address my own loss, let alone make space to reach them individually. I know we all need support, and we’ve tried group sessions but there are always holdouts. They’re not long enough sessions to truly feel meaningful for all of us, but they’re something.
What else can I do for my kids to feel ready and safe enough to talk about their feelings and grief?
Bereaved and Tired Mama
You are absolutely correct — you’re all grieving differently. Despite losing the same individual, you each had a unique relationship to him. That, combined with your own uniqueness, changes how you will experience the loss and subsequently, experience healing.
Your kids probably know they can trust you, but after losing someone so significant, their general sense of trust is shattered through no fault of your own. It’s trust in the security of life. Things are not going to remain the same, and now your kids are learning that difficult truth pretty early in life.
For your part, creating a sense of psychological safety for your children will remind them that while the world is unsteady, and grief is real, you are steady. You are grieving, but you are also with them in their grief.
Psychological safety just means you kids know through your responses and actions that they are safe to present themselves as they are — no platitudes, sugar coating, or stuffing the big emotions to make a more perfect environment.
Knowing they will not be shamed or dismissed in their feelings means they’ll start to feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings in a way that invites both conversation and opportunity to encourage.
But the more you learn to quietly hold space for them — listening when they’re ready to speak, without trying to correct or guide — the more frequently they will begin to share. Those big or even silent expressions of their grief will make a little more sense to them, and you. And in that place, you’ll start to recognize the different ways you each experience your grief and the ways you each feel more connected, integrated, and realigned with your sense of self.
But even with all that advice, please remember: Loss is one day at a time — often one hour or minute at a time. Regressing or having a harder, “griefier” day is not a sign of backtracking or losing your sense of healing. That’s true for you and your kids. It’s a sign that you are doing a lot and something within you is crying out for another day off from the busy of life. Honor that cry with rest.
With deep compassion for your healing family,
Do you have questions about grief? Send Mandy your questions via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. All submissions are anonymous, with details occasionally changed to protected against identification.
You can also submit a question here: Ask A Grief Coach!
Mandy Capehart is an author, small business owner, editor, certified grief and life coach, and creator of The Restorative Grief Project. The Restorative Grief Project is an online community focusing on one another’s stories and new methodologies for grief, creating a safe environment for our souls to heal and our spirits to be revived. To learn more, visit MandyCapehart.com or follow her on Twitter. She thinks she is pretty funny. The jury is out.