We spoke to psychotherapist and author Joanna Fortune about how we can help our children process grief right now.
What we are currently experiencing is a once in a lifetime event. It took us all by surprise and unfortunately nobody has all of the answers. According to psychotherapist and author Joanna Fortune, this is a time of great loss. This loss affect and radiates from all family members but particularly from our children.
" There is the loss of the familiar, the predictable and we must hold in mind that it is precisely the familiar and predictable that help us feel secure and safe, both in the world and within ourselves "
As a parent this is something I can relate to in such a tangible way. I take great comfort in the familiar. Particularly in the everyday sense. I like to know what is happening, when it's happening and what will happen if it doesn't, happen. Through this experience I feel like I have been stripped of that comfort and I am realizing that my children have too. It is helping me understand the change in my son's behaviour. For a couple of days now anger has been prevalent. This anger appears to be how he is processing grief. According to Joanna
" Such a loss renders us insecure and unsafe and that will bring up other feelings in response such as anger, anxiety, sadness, fear. Children (mostly) do not have the language to express the emotional impact and so they do so in a behavioural way. "
Play With Them
According to Joanna the best way to understand a child is by getting involved in their world of play. Play is the language that our children speak fluently. Through play they process their emotions and frustrations and when we enter that world of play we can try to understand those big feelings. According to Joanna that is also how our children will feel understood by us.
Check In With Yourself
In order to help our children during this time of great anxiety we must first check in with ourselves. Like our children we will have good days and not so good days. We will experience a plethora of different emotions and we will deal with those emotions in different ways depending on how we are feeling. Speaking to our children about this is helpful because it
" validates their experiences and reassures them that they will get through it "
Notice Regressed Behaviours But Don't Panic
According to Joanna, regressed behaviours are to be expected during this time. Your child is not broken and these behaviours are the outward expression of the feelings they are holding inside.
" You may see regressed behaviours, defiance, tantrums, despondency and also some projection whereby it will feel like they are trying to push our buttons but really it is an attempt to be understood and moreover have their trusted adults reflect back to them how they are feeling in a more manageable way. "
All of the above will help reassure your children that they will overcome this challenging time. By opening up about your own good and bad days you will validate your child's feelings and help them feel understood. By using play as a tool to understand the way they are feeling you will be in a much better position to help them navigate those feelings and by checking in with yourself you will be able to give your children the best of you during this time.
Joanna Fortune is a psychotherapist and author of 15 Minute Parenting and The Language Of Play Series which are available on pre-order at a special kindle price.