By Takia K Hepburn
Christian counsellor, educator
It is my sincere belief that children secure the future of any given country or society. It is mandated by God that we as adults guard, protect and nourish our children. As an educator, I am cognizant of the importance of education and fostering learning in our children. However, catering to the souls and emotional well-being of our little darlings is vital.
As we here in Grand Bahama and Abaco have faced two devastating and catastrophic events in recent times, I am sure that guidance counsellors, Christian counsellors and child psychologists are needed now more than ever. To protect the very fibre of our society we must not only cater to the physical demands of our children, but we must ensure that we are raising a generation that has received therapy and mental counselling after experiencing disasters such Hurricane Dorian and the outbreak of COVID-19.
This article seeks to help children who have been suffering with grief symptoms as well as give some practical tips parents can implement in their lives in order to help them obtain optimal mental health. To begin, let us examine some of the signs you may notice if your child is dealing with grief:
1 Physical outbursts
Your child may act out their emotions physically. This can be in the form of fighting, tantrums, getting body piercings or tattoos, or other physical expressions.
2 Suicidal thoughts
The child or teenager may express that they want to be left alone.
3 Signs of depression or feeling hopeless
4 Refusing support from family or others
5 Threatening to quit school or they may say they hate school.
6 Being defiant, obstructive or creating non-stop stress and problems in the family
7 Physical complaints, weight problems, sleeping problems, nightmares or nervousness
8 Continuing to yearn for a dead loved one which in turn may affect their lives
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms then maybe it is time to seek help from your local pastor or community counselling service. Sometimes we neglect to pay attention to our children’s emotional and spiritual needs when disaster or death enters the family. If an adult is affected by the loss of a loved one and there is a child in the family, then that child most likely will experience some of the same emotions encountered by the adult. Did you experience pain? Then your child may have experienced pain as well. Did you feel a great sense of loss when your husband died, the one who you loved for 20 plus years? Then most likely your child is experiencing a great sense of loss of their father as well. Grief is like an angry, unforeseen force that can cripple the souls of men if are not handled with delicate care and counsel.
Now that you are aware of the symptoms a child feeling grief may exhibit, let us examine some solutions that can help improve the situation.
In her book “I Wasn’t Ready To Say Goodbye”, author Linda Cunningham offers some helpful ideas for adults to help encourage teenagers to work with their grief. If a child or teenager is experiencing grief try these solutions:
The surviving parent must continue with the daily routine as best as possible so that the child can experience a sense of normalcy. The child’s environment should remain the same, so it may be best not to change schools or relocate to new home, or even hire a new sitter.
Always be a good listener. Listen to what your child has to say. Stop talking and just sit there and hear what they have to say.
Express your unconditional love for them as much as you can
Have a discussion about death. Make sure include words such as accident and death and died. Never use the words “he/she passed away”, “he/she is sleeping” or “we lost him/her”. These words can confuse children and create misunderstandings.
Children should be involved in the planning and participation of memorial ceremonies. It helps them to remember loved ones. If the child is attending the funeral, wake or memorial service, he or she should be given time a full explanation of what to expect at these events ahead of time.
According to Linda Cunningham, it’s important for parents and guardians to encourage children to ask questions and listen to what they have to say, talk on their level, find out what frightens them and develop a family emergency plan for the future if something unexpected happens in your family or neighbourhood. This can help your children feel safer.
I know that in the Bahamian society it may be taboo to even talk about death and our feelings about those we have lost, but let us change this to create a healthy nation. Helping children to deal with their pain brought on by losing a parent or a loved one can assist them in becoming an emotionally healthy adult. Remember, your child will not be a child forever, so helping them work through that grief is paramount.
• Takia K Hepburn holds degrees in Christian counselling and is a primary school teacher. For questions and comments, contact firstname.lastname@example.org