When Daddy's Away
The husband of a very dear friend of mine was recently deployed back to Afghanistan, leaving mom and their two kids on their own for 9 months. Helping two young children handle this situation while dealing with her own emotions, is quite a lot to ask of anyone. So, I’d like to offer some suggestions for helping kids deal with grief and loss.
“How much longer, Mommy?”
The concept of time is one that young kids cannot appreciate, so the answer to the question “How much longer, Mommy?” cannot be answered in days, hours or minutes. To help little ones create a visual calendar (or series of images, sketches or photos) that represents the time until Dad (or Mom or Grandma…)comes back. Create a fun ritual of marking off the days each night. This will give young children a small sense of control and understanding of the situation.
Don’t keep it together
Letting them see your own feelings, sends them the message that it’s OK to feel sad. It’s important, though, that you do so in a way that does not make them feel responsible for comforting you. That can become an additional burden that will only make things harder for them. However, modeling how you handle your own feelings will help them learn to handle their own. Tell them what you do to make yourself feel better when you’re feeling sad. Help them think of things they can do when they feel sad. (Drawing a picture, coming to you for a hug, playing their favorite music, etc.)
WWDD?(What Would Daddy Do?)
Encourage imaginary conversations with the person who is missed. “If Daddy were here right now, what would you tell him?” “What do you think he would say to you?” You can even put together a “While-you-were-out” scrap-book. Document the funny stories, notable accomplishments, and important events in a scrap book for Dad to see when he returns. Creating regular rituals gives kids a sense of comfort, stability and security. This is a perfect opportunity to create one. Find a weekly time that you can stick to, and work on the book as a family. Imagine what Dad would have to say each week as everyone shares their news.
It’s easy to be sad when we miss someone. Help kids handle that sadness by encouraging them to think of funny, happy memories, too. Our tendency is to want to protect kids from any negative experiences or emotions. While the intention comes from a good place, a better goal would be to encourage them to develop skills to handle life’s difficulties with strength and grace. We can’t protect other people (of any age) from life’s challenges, nor should we try. It denies them the opportunity to discover their own strength and leaves them without the skills to deal with life’s inevitable difficulties.
Gila Brown, M.A. is a Child Development Expert and Parent Coach, with over 15 years of experience working with children. She specializes in parenting school-age children with grace, using principles of attachment parenting, positive discipline and effective communication. Visit Gila Brown to get a copy of her free CD “Help! My Kids Just Won’t Listen”.