If your children do not seem to “be themselves” lately, it
is wise to consider they might be grieving.
You would think that because God gave us separate emotions
to use on different occasions that the brain would be able to choose the right
emotion for the job.
We might think that – but we would be wrong.
My theory may not be official, but I imagine the brain keeps
emotion in a sack, and sometimes when it doesn’t know which emotion is
correct, it picks a random one and applies it. This phenomenon is especially
real for children who are beginners in the business of feelings. Grief may not always look like grief.
For parents, it is a good idea to frequently make a check on the
emotional expressions of your children to see if there is a hidden emotion. For instance, the school year has ended.
While this means family members no longer have to fight for computer time, and
parents no longer need to worry over lessons, it still does not feel like
This year did not have the usual routine that helps
school-aged children to bring closure to the year. Your child may not have
mentioned missed field trips, yearbook signings, or special events that
typically replace the grief of change with good memories. And your child does not need
to be graduating to feel grief over what was lost. The brain knows that some
part of the end-of-year routine is missing, creating sadness and anxiety. The brain does not ignore grief, and it doesn't always understand what to do with it.
Grief is a reasonably unfamiliar emotion for many children.
If they have not experienced the loss of a family member or a pet, they might
not recognize grief over losing end-of-year activities. And while this kind of
grief is not as intense as a family loss, it is there none-the-less.
Because your child may not recognize this loss, this may impact behavior in much the same way as
anxiety. In other words, it may not look like grief.
Here are three things that you can do with your child if you
suspect that grief is lurking behind unexpected or hard-to-change behavior.
Sit in grace. While the impulse may be to immediately
correct the behavior, this is a perfect opportunity to spend some time in grace
mode. Some small things ask for empathy and reframing.
“I wonder if you are feeling sad about missing the end of
the school year? I think your teacher and your classmates feel the same way.
What can you do to help yourself feel better?
Do you see what we did there? This response correctly identifies the feelings of grief and points the child in the right direction for regulating -- or dealing with -- those feelings.
Wait a bit. Some behaviors cannot you cannot ignore, but
most can wait until after a cooling-off period. Allow your child some time to
calm down and find his or her sadness. Talk with your child about grief before
applying a consequence. Often, once children realize the emotion that caused
the behavior, they no longer wish to repeat the behavior. If it is a persistent behavior, understanding the "why" behind it will help your child find a better way to express feelings.
Make connections: When children experience a new emotion,
they lack an understanding of how to regulate it. Even if your child denies
that he or she is sad about the end of the year, it doesn’t hurt to make that
connection so they can gradually learn how to identify emotions and how to use
them more effectively. Identify grief as the reason for the behavior. Say it aloud and allow your child to talk about it and about what can be done.
It is a healthy product of grief to do
something to remember what was lost, such as communicate with a friend or write
a letter to the teacher. An effective
way to explain this is to point out the difference between dealing with sadness and anger and doing things that make others sad or angry.
We want our
children to learn they can control their behavior in nearly any emotional
state. Once they can do this, their emotions begin to help them understand what
has happened instead of possibly working against their better interests.
The LORD is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in
spirit. Psalm 34:18
God in His providence gave us emotions to help us learn, to
help us make decisions, and to help us live and work with each other. Emotions
also help us to comprehend new experiences, overwhelming experiences, and
unwelcome ones. It is a gift to be able to help your children to understand and use emotions. It is a task with which God will gladly help. He cares
about your emotions, too.