There is no worse emotion to deal with than grief. As an adult, the feeling of loss and sadness can consume every part of your body. The mental stress that comes with it can cripple your whole body. And, it seems like you will never recover from the news. If this is a typical reaction for a grown up, imagine how children feel.
Although adults often don’t give their kids enough emotional credit, this is one time when their immaturity holds them back. The idea of death, even if a constant, never seems realistic. Until they have to deal with it, children don’t understand the full extent. Therefore, kids can struggle with the process of grieving.
As a parent, it is your job to guide them through the most difficult times in their lives. The loss of a loved one is such a time, but how are you supposed to know how to act? Let me be clear that sometimes you have to step back and get yourself together before you can help your child. Don’t underestimate the advice given before every airplane takes off; put on your own oxygen mask before helping your child. This is such a time that advice rings true. There are some things you can do that will make it easier on any child, autism or not.
Break The News Gently
There are times when a parent has to be caring and times when they have to be stern. Death requires the former over the latter. Because the news is going to hurt, it is better to adopt a caring tone and a non-aggressive approach. However, the key is the language you use. Death is final, and you need to get the message across that said person is not here anymore. However, you don’t want to be cold or harsh. It is a delicate balancing act, yet it is possible with the right words. A good tip is to use simple words and phrases so that they can understand everything you say. For instance, “I have some bad news.”
Give Them Time To Process
A standard response is to throw your arms around your children to protect them from the pain. With grief, this isn’t possible because the pain is internal and only the individual can find a way to cope. Anyway, your children might not want their parents to hug and kiss them to make it better. In the beginning, the best option is to allow them time to process the idea. That doesn’t mean you should leave the room or not talk for the rest of the day because they might need a shoulder to cry on. What it does mean is that there should be a period of silence after you break the news. Let the information sink in and let your kids be the first to respond. Be prepared for your child with autism to not understand. It’s important to expect a response concurrent with their developmental level.
Answer Their Questions
If this is the first time your children have dealt with death, they will have lots of questions. It is human nature to be curious about the things which you don’t understand. Kids are inquisitive beings anyway. As well as supporting them with physical comfort, answering their questions is one of the main ways to calm them. How you respond and the answers you provide will affect their mindset. For instance, if you say the funeral is going to be a terrible event which they will never forget, it will make the situation worse. But, if you say it’s a short ceremony with the rest of your friends and family, they are less likely to panic. Try and tread a careful line between the truth and comfort. Be cognizant of their social abilities and their need to have a set routine. Be prepared to tell them in detail every event that will take place in the days following the death.
Talk About The Funeral
Probably the hardest part of the grieving process is the funeral. It is the last time anyone gets to say goodbye, and it’s a somber occasion. For kids, it can be overwhelming and emotional, which is why talking about it is paramount. Again, it will give them an insight into what to expect so that they process the day before it arrives. How much you tell them is up to you but the more prepared your child with autism is for what will happen , the likelier it is for them to navigate the event successfully.. Some people like to walk their kids through the whole service, from getting to the church to the memorial prayer. Others like to take on a general tone. For example, they would say something to the effect of, “everyone who loved granddad will be there and we will pray, sing and cry.” Also, don’t be afraid to let them have a good time. Although funerals are sad times, they are celebrations of a person’s life. Laughing and joking, as well as crying are all part of the day. There is no wrong way to grieve. It’s important that children know that and are accepted no matter what they do. Recruit someone who can take your child out if he needs to leave for whatever reason.
Turn To God
We turn to God for everything. Whether it is for help with the family or thanking Him for a meal, God is the bedrock of our life. Obviously, there is never a better time to pray and ask for guidance than when a loved one dies. We can struggle to understand the plan He has set out for everyone in the world, but we should never waiver. Turning to Him now is not only a way to deal with grief, but it is a coping mechanism for the future. People, kids included, can split from their religion when times get hard. Ultimately, there is no better way to cope than to know that the person they love is in heaven. This thought will give them solace when the grief threatens to overwhelm them.
Check In With Their Emotions
You are an integral part of the grieving process for them. Being the parent, your role is to help them grieve, which is why you need to allow time for wounds to heal. Even with God, children can struggle to navigate some heavy feelings. They might not understand what they are feeling. By talking and asking them how they feel, you can gauge their progress and analyze whether they are in a “good” place. It won’t happen overnight, so checking-in is a long-term process. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help and sign up for your child to speak to a therapist if you think they need it. There is no shame in looking for professional help if you or your child is struggling.
As well as God, you are their rock and their comfort blanket. In the end, they will turn to both for guidance and reassurance. He always does the right thing, and now it is down to you to do the same. He will give you the tools you need to help your child get through what will an extremely difficult and trying time for everyone.