Are your kids grumpier than usual? Has bickering and fighting increased? Is there more disrespect? More attitude? Do they seem to be carrying a chip on their shoulder? Are you trying to assume the role of “teacher” and getting pushback? It may surprise you to know these can be signs of attachment pain and grief.
So much has changed for our children in recent days. Routines have changed. Our children no longer attend school with friends and beloved teachers. Likely, they aren’t able to visit grandparents and extended family members. Church is cancelled; children can’t even play and hang out with friends. This is a lot of loss!
Grief can present itself in a variety of ways. The most obvious is sadness. We want to recognize and acknowledge our children are sad because of the many changes in their world. Grief can leak out “under the radar” and show up as behavioral issues. Our children’s behavior difficulties can make it so we parents are more likely to slip out of relational mode. When this happens, it can be harder for us to offer synchronization with their feelings, along with tenderness and attentiveness toward their needs in this painful season.
So what can we do? With grief and feelings of loss, we want to process the waves of our painful feelings with a 3-step sequence. We want to: “Feel, Share and Quiet” the emotions that arise. In order to start the process, our kids may need our help to recognize they are feeling some grief over the losses in their life right now. We pay attention to their emotional reactions and tenderly ask them what they need when they feel upset.
Before we can successfully support our children through their grief, we need to start grieving our own losses. Yes, you are allowed to grieve over your lost routines, the friends you are missing, the lack of quiet time in your home, and the sudden urgency to be a homeschool parent! Acknowledging these losses doesn’t make you a bad parent. It’s OK that you have feelings other than pure excitement for more time with your kids. As you recognize your grief, allow yourself to feel the sadness, then share your feelings with a trusted friend or family member and of course, with Jesus. Allowing yourself to grieve puts you in a better place to support your children through their own process.
Once you have words for your grief, you can candidly share with your child that you are struggling. You are also sad and missing your friends and family members. Ask them who and what they are missing. Talk about how it is like your family to act when you feel this way.
- “We are a family who cries together when we feel sad.”
- “We are a family who misses people when we can’t be together.”
- “We are a family who turn to Jesus when we lose our peace.”
When you lead by example, identify what you are grieving, and discuss how your family likes to act during times of sadness and grief, you help your children have a language to recognize what they are feeling.
As you talk about what they are missing, ask them how they feel. Feelings of fear or anxiety may surface in addition to their sadness. This is a good time to validate their feelings and offer comfort. We want to make sure to first validate acknowledge just how big their feelings are), then we can offer comfort by asking “What helps when you feel this way?” or “What can we find that is still good, despite these painful feelings?”
Sharing these feelings and finding comfort together helps everyone feel connected and quiet their distress. This process gives the added bonus of having a language to discuss what is going on, which helps us offer grace with each other when we are not at our best.
If your children are missing people in their life, use some creativity to see if you can help them make a phone or video connection. Try to chat with Grandma and Grandpa. Draw a picture and write a letter to a friend. Make a silly video and send it to the cousins. Find ways for them (and you) to stay connected with the significant people in your life despite the current necessity to maintain some physical distance.
For more on navigating these difficult times as a family, check out our recent webinar, “Navigating the Unexpected: Keeping Sanity in the Family During a Crisis.”