I have been reading When Children Grieve by John W. James and Russell Friedman. It is a very good book, and I highly recommend it. There is too much information to include in one small blog, so I will do a series of blogs on this book.
When it starts out, it says most of us learned about grief as a child. Many times a child will imitate the actions of the parents or follow the advice that a parent or trusted adult gives them. We may or may not know how much we are influencing the children in our care.
John and Russell define grief as, “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by change or an end in a familiar pattern of behavior.” This means that grief can be felt when someone dies, when a divorce happens, when we move, or loose a pet. It could be loss of stability or hope. Grief is an expression that is natural and must be worked through by action. I like the illustration they used about the cliché, “Time heals all wounds.” They said that it would be just as logical to wait for a flat tire to fill up as wait for time to heal emotional wounds. Just like there are certain steps to changing a tire, there are certain steps to healing an emotional wound.
There are six myths that most of us have been exposed to and some of us may completely accept them as truths, but they are false. I will talk about the first 2 in this blog because they go together.
The first is, “Don’t be sad”, or “Don’t feel bad.” How many times have you heard someone you love tell you or a child, “Don’t feel bad….” The sentence can be completed with a number of endings.
Don’t feel bad, your mother is in a better place now.
Don’t feel bad, we will get you a new one.
Don’t feel bad, at least you still have your health.
I know you probably thought of several other ways to complete the sentence. We do feel bad, and it is very natural to feel bad when something negative happens to us. They talk about how ridiculous it would sound if someone said, “Don’t feel good, you will do worse next time.” When shown using the positive express, it shows that the sentence doesn’t make sense. Just as it does not make sense when someone says, “Don’t feel bad.” We need to be able to feel bad when something bad happens just as much as we need to feel good when something good happens. They talked about how when we stop or dismiss a child’s honest expression of feelings, we may be helping the child to stop feeling altogether.
The second myth is about replacing the loss. I said that these two myths go together. It usually starts with, “Don’t feel bad, we will pick out a new dog after school.” Somehow we believe that we should not feel bad and that replacing the item or relationship will help us overcome the grief. This can cause a lot of problems. A child who thinks feeling sad can be resolved by a cookie or any type of food is not necessarily going to feel better, but will feel different, and therefore, may continue to eat to overcome grief. A child who receives a new pet to replace the old one will not have the same relationship with the new pet and may hate the new one. In a relationship, instead of working through the heartache of a break-up, the next relationship starts with buried hurt. Replacing will never fix the hurt.
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