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copyright Karen UlvestadEmotions are not easy to talk about. They are the essence of who we are, and show the world what we are made of. Human words often fall short of describing or explaining how or what we are feeling.

We live in a society where feelings/emotions may or may not be accepted. Often times, we are told to feel differently or that our emotion is not appropriate for the situation. I think this damages us as individuals, a family or as a society.

It is human to feel. It is normal to cry. These are basic human needs. We are feeling beings, and often we have to pretend that we are feeling “nothing.” We deny our basic needs, and we create an imbalance in our lives.

Communication comes in many forms, and speech is only one form. We have the ability to create art, write stories, act parts in drama (plays, movies, TV programs, etc.), dance, build things and more. It is sad when individuals choose to “build” physical things/actions that harm others.

Grief is a complex group of emotions, that takes time to work through. Adults and children process these events differently. An adult can analyze the event, correlate it with other past events, and work through it using the past and present.

Children usually do not have past events to refer to. We are helping them build healthy ways of working through grief or other emotions. As adults, we are responsible for helping a child through a traumatic event in a healthy way.

I think the hardest part for an adult is to be patient enough with the child, especially if we are trying to navigate our own emotions to the same event. It is a time where we have to see/admit our own short-comings and be honest with ourselves and the child involved.

In many ways, children are more resilient than adults. They will take their “ques” on how to respond from the adults in their lives. If we act like it’s an outrage, they will learn that behavior, and act the same. If we choose to talk about our emotions and feelings, they will take that habit to heart. Children learn by example. Everything in their lives are an example of how they should grow-up and live their own life.

Being a parent or an adult in a child’s life is a great responsibility. The adult does not have to be perfect. Making mistakes is important. It teaches a child that making mistakes is part of life.

When adults make their mistakes, we need to talk to our children about the mistakes, and share the importance of recognizing errors, correcting the mistake and being honest about it. Children are very smart, and will “get” it.

So, how do we discuss grief with a child?

We just had 3 deaths in the family within a 72 hour period. One death was a wonderful grandfather, dad and father-in-law. He had suffered from Parkinson’s, so his death was not completely unexpected.

We chose to talk to our son (12 years old) about death, and how his grandfather was going to die from Parkinson’s. We listened to his concerns, answered his questions, and visited often. We created an open dialogue with him, and he understands his emotions.

We talked about the grief process, and how he may have changing emotions or react to little things that bother him. He’s able to say “I’m feeling grumpy,” and know that it is ok. I think it’s really important to create an open atmosphere for a child going through grief.

We are open about our feelings. It’s not always easy to share, but it’s an important part of the process and being a parent. Each of us has the option to ask for “quiet time” to figure out or work through our feelings. It’s ok for an adult to need quiet time. We all need to think through our thoughts, instead of reacting to our environment.

We consistently work on creating a safe place/space for all members of the family to share. For a child, everything is important, and it is. It is the time they are learning how to operate in a family, with other people, and in the world. As adults, we need to honor children with our attention. It’s important!

It’s healthy to talk about the person who died or the event. We need to guide ourselves and children away from obsessing about it. It could be simply a walk outside, playing at the park, or going to visit friends. If that doesn’t work, it is good to talk to a councilor or other trained professional to learn new skills for coping with the situation in a better way.

Personally, I deal with these issues through writing, art, or photography. It helps me understand myself, express my feelings/emotions in a safe way, and share it with others. We are teaching this to our son. When words fail, there are other healthy avenues to express grief, feelings and emotions.

Love & Light to All. . .Karen