Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

In times of grief, it’s essential to remember that open dialogue and support are key to helping both children and adults navigate their emotions and find healing together. Gateway Family Services is here to provide guidance and assistance during these challenging times.

Recently, in the wake of a tragic incident that left a nine-year-old boy gone too soon, the Central Illinois community is grappling with sorrow and trying to make sense of the unthinkable. Families find themselves struggling to cope with the loss, and as we face the challenging days ahead, Michael Remole, a therapist with Gateway Family Services of Illinois, offers invaluable insights on handling the grieving process and supporting our children through times of tragedy.

Michael emphasizes the importance of not concealing our grief, especially from our children. Often, parents, grandparents, and caregivers feel the need to put on a brave face to shield their children from additional sadness. However, Michael suggests that hiding our grief sends a few unintended messages to our kids.

Firstly, it implies that grieving is wrong or something to be ashamed of. During times of tragedy, it’s essential to normalize emotions like sadness, confusion, and anger, allowing our children to see that these feelings are natural reactions to difficult circumstances. 

Hiding our grief can also inadvertently signal a threat to our children. Children are highly attuned to their caregivers’ emotions, and when they detect incongruence between a parent’s inner turmoil and outward demeanor, it can make them feel unsafe.

Additionally, concealing our grief can inadvertently communicate shame, suggesting that the emotions associated with grieving should be hidden. Michael encourages parents to let their children witness their tears, as this not only shows them that their emotions are valid but also provides guidance on how to process them.

Recognizing that children grieve differently from adults is crucial. While adults may seek solace in conversation, children often process their grief through play, their primary language. Therefore, it’s essential to give children the space to express themselves in ways that feel natural to them.

Moreover, as children navigate the complex emotions of grief, caregivers may notice changes in behavior, such as increased irritability, backtalk, or even physical outbursts. It’s vital to understand that these behaviors can be manifestations of underlying emotions, and providing opportunities for “re-dos” can be immensely helpful.

In dealing with grief, it’s important not to rationalize or reason with emotions. Attempting to do so may temporarily suppress feelings, but they will resurface eventually. Instead, encourage children to experience and express their emotions appropriately. It’s like holding a beachball underwater; if you don’t allow some air to escape, it will eventually burst forth uncontrollably.

Normalize talking about the loss and sharing stories from the past. This may not be easy, and children may bring up difficult topics at unexpected times. In such situations, acknowledge their emotions, and if necessary, express your willingness to discuss the matter later when you can give them your full attention.

For those who are people of faith, Michael provides a valuable perspective. He cautions against using phrases like “God must have needed them right now,” as they can unintentionally shape children’s views of God in a negative way. It’s okay to admit when we don’t understand why such tragedies occur, and to share our own questions with our children.

For more in-depth guidance and information on Gateway Family Services, as well as Michael’s tips on helping children through tragedy, you can read his full blog post here.