Show Your Grief (and your other feelings too)

Toys sitting on a dock of a lake talking and fishing

It can be helpful to show children your grief when supporting them with grief, loss, or any other feeling too. With the best intentions, sometimes, adults shelter children from their grief. This may be because they are worried that the child, they are supporting, will become upset or get more upset. The instinct we often have is to protect children. It makes sense that we might not want to share our pain with them and pretend that we are doing fine.

Family of toys all doing their own thing; washing a car, enjoying tea, playing on the playground, and playing basketball

Let’s say that you are driving home, and on the way, you roll down your window and smell a barbeque cooking. You start to think of your loved one who died who you have fond memories of summer times with. Your grief hits you like a wave. You step in the door of your home, and everyone is having fun. You may not want to change the mood by bringing up your grief.

A toy walks in the front door while other toys are playing a card game

Here is why it may be helpful to talk about where your feelings are at:

  • You can show healthy expressions of grief.
  • You can bring up the idea of triggers (sounds, smells, sights, the way something feels and tastes) that can sometimes make grief come up unexpectedly.
  • You can let them know where you are at so they are not wondering if they are the reason that you may seem to be feeling feelings or seem upset.
  • You can help to normalize their feelings if they also have experienced waves of grief.
  • You can create a space for them to feel safe about sharing their grief in the future.
Toys sitting around a kitchen table chatting and enjoying treats

It is important to normalize feelings for children so they can hopefully feel comforted by knowing they are not alone as other people feel similar feelings to them. It may be helpful to try to make time to spend time together to share feelings.

Toys sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows

Sharing regularly about your feelings can help children to normalize their feelings, to understand you better, and to create a safe space for them to share if they would like. Times that may work well to share are while playing games, making art, going for a walk, or driving in the car. One of the reasons why these activities may work well for sharing, is we do not have to look at the person we are sharing with. We can divert our gaze to what we are doing which can sometimes help in sharing as we are not seeing, or feeling the need to respond, as much to the non-verbal responses of the person we are sharing with.

Toys driving and talking in a car

Perhaps while you are driving home, you are thinking of a challenging time you had with someone today. Maybe the child you are supporting did too, in the space that they were in today. By you expressing your feelings in healthy ways you provide them with a safe space to express their feelings to you if they would like to. They may choose to express their feelings through more ways than talking. They may show you through their play, their art, the stories they create, or other ways of expressing themselves.

Play is the language of children. Birds fly, fish swim, and children play.”

Garry Landreth (The founder of the Center for Play Therapy)
A toy playing on a playground

There are some subjects and some details that may not be appropriate to share. What I find helpful is to think of keeping the focus 90% on them and 10% on me. If I know a child I am supporting is being bullied at school, I may say, “I had a hard day the other day because someone in my life was picking on me. I feel sad, embarrassed, and frustrated when that happens.” Then I would leave space and let them choose whether they would like to respond to me or not. I know that at least they are now aware that others may experience similar feelings as they do and that it is safe to share with me if they choose to share.

Toys sitting on a dock talking and fishing

So, share shame, joy, embarrassment, pride, anxiety, calm, anger, grief, or any other feeling that you suspect they may be feeling.

Toys sitting and talking at a lake in front of a cabin

After you have given them lots of time and space to respond, if they are wanting to, then you can briefly mention a couple healthy ways to cope with those feelings that have worked for you and let them know that there may be other ways that work better for them such as painting, playing, gardening, or whatever other way they would like to express their feelings.  

Toys talking and gardening

In grief and in other feelings, sometimes we may feel that we are alone. In expressing our grief (and other feelings too), we can help the children we are supporting feel that they are not alone.

Close up of toys talking and gardening

If you are supporting a child with grief and loss, hopefully this has helped you think of ways to show them your grief today in a healthy way.

Toys talking and sitting on top of a flower