What To Do When Your Spouse Is A Bad Parent
Parenting has evolved since I was a kid. But not necessarily because of cultural shifts as much as access to information. Research, blogs, and social media have made it easy to access information about how our parenting impacts kids. This information can help us to better understand the long-term impact of our parenting. It also reshapes what this generation sees as good or bad parenting. Parents often search for information to help them when they view their spouse as a bad parent.
Before we look deeper into this, let’s clarify what a “bad” parent looks like.
★If your spouse is emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to your child (or you), this article isn’t for you. I strongly urge you to stop reading and seek help. Contact the National Children’s Advocacy Center. The following information is not intended for your situation or to condone that type of parent.★
For our purposes, let’s take a look at the parenting styles to define what a bad parent looks like. There are four main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. An uninvolved parenting style is typically characterized as being distant with little communication. They may ensure their child’s basic needs are met but are involved little beyond that. An uninvolved parenting style is considered bad parenting.
If you think your spouse is a bad parent, you may feel like they:
- Show little or no affection to their children.
- Don’t provide emotional support for their children.
- Don’t set rules, boundaries, or expectations.
- Don’t know their child’s friends.
- Have no involvement with their child’s education.
We have to acknowledge that parenting, like life, has seasons. You may look at this list and say, “Yep, my spouse isn’t involved with our child. They’re a bad parent.” I would ask you two questions first.
- Is this a busy season?
- Do they have a desire to be more involved?
Your spouse may be in a busy season due to work or life demands. I don’t want to justify their actions, but there is a difference between a bad parent and a busy parent.
If you think your spouse is a bad parent and you’re reading this, you know something needs to change.
How do you help them become a more involved or better parent?
→Open the lines of communication.
You recognize there’s an issue. You may have to take the first step toward your spouse. A good rule is not to bring up these issues when frustrated. An argument isn’t going to bring resolution.
Schedule a coffee date with your spouse. Let them know how you feel without being accusatory. It may be challenging, but using “I” statements to express your feelings is an excellent way to discuss frustrations in a relationship.
Perhaps you could start the conversation like this: “Lately, I’ve noticed some distance between you and our son. I want to ensure that you’re getting the time with him he needs. Is there something I can do to help us get on the same page?”
→Seek to understand.
Our parenting style is often a result of how we were parented, good or bad. Your spouse parents the way they do for a reason. Discuss these questions to dive deeper:
- What were the parenting styles in each of our homes?
- Which patterns do we want to change about how our parents raised us?
- What healthy habits do we want to maintain?
This conversation is as much about your parenting as their parenting. You may gain insight into why your spouse parents the way they do. You may learn something about yourself. This may open up some emotional wounds. If so, don’t be afraid to seek help from a coach or counselor.
→Find common ground.
Look for good parenting resources that you can discuss together. Identify the common parenting values in your family. Do you both value responsibility, hard work, or helping others? Establish goals for your parenting. What do you want your parenting to result in? Write down the positive parenting contributions from your spouse. Build on these positives.
→Avoid good cop, bad cop.
There will be disagreements over how you both parent, but those are conversations for the two of you. As you and your spouse become better parents together, try to avoid fighting in front of your kids. Present a united front. Remember, you’re a team. Your child needs to see that the two of you care for each other and them.
Just because you think your spouse is a bad parent doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. You can come together and move forward as a family. It’s gonna take work, some compromise, and lots of conversations. The process is worth it for your kids, your marriage, and future generations of your family.
Baumrind. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior. https://doi.org/10.2307/1126611.
Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x.
My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First
How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First
How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First
**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**
What Does It Mean to Be the Default Parent?
The other day, I was at my kids’ school, deep in conversation with my wife and another parent. Then, here comes our 6-year-old daughter, on a mission. She goes right around my wife to ask me if she could go play on the playground. My wife responds, “Hey, I’m right here, and Dad is talking.” This didn’t phase my daughter at all. She had a question and thought I had the answer. My wife and I are very much partners in parenting. Still, we recognize that I often serve as the default parent.
What does “default parent” mean?
Default means a preselected option. We all know what parent means. So, what’s a default one? They are the one who carries the bigger load in parenting (assuming there are two parents present). According to a 2014 Huff Post article, they’re responsible for their children’s emotional, physical, and logistical needs.
If you’re the default parent, you probably already know it without thinking about it.
Your child comes to you when they need anything (sometimes physically bypassing the other parent).
You’re the one who coordinates the schedules, sets appointments (and makes sure they get there), nurses injuries, ensures all school needs are met, and serves as the first point of contact for school or daycare.
You also feel the pressure to take the lead on anything new that pops up, like school meetings or appointments.
How does one become the default parent?
Sometimes it’s a choice. There is an intentional conversation, and one parent chooses that role. But more often than not, it falls to one person without a conversation happening. If only one parent works outside of the home, the other parent may become the default parent. And yes, while moms tend to be seen as the default parent, that isn’t always the case.
Is there always a default parent?
More likely than not. One parent may always carry more of the load. Parenting will not always be 50/50, depending on your work schedule, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unbearable for one of you. Being intentional about communicating with your spouse is the only way to ensure you’re both sharing the load.
Here’s what parenting looks like in our situation. My children are both elementary school age, and my wife works at their school. I have a more flexible schedule. So, I schedule and take the kids to doctor and dentist appointments. My wife would tell you that she can count the dentist appointments she’s made on one hand. I have served on the school PTA for five years. Until she started working at the school, I served as the primary contact for my son’s teachers. I take responsibility for my son’s sports schedule.
My wife coordinates the family calendar to ensure we don’t overbook ourselves. She’s the go-to for our kids when they are sick, but I often stay home with them if they miss school. We are fairly evenly split on household chores.
Am I really the default parent? My wife would say yes. Our situation was created mostly by circumstances. Do I do everything? Not by a long shot.
What challenges arise for the default parent?
Let’s start with the fact that parenting is difficult in and of itself. There’s no way around that. Being a default parent makes it even harder.
Here are just a few challenges that arise:
- Feeling neglected and unheard
- Feeling guilt when taking time for yourself
- Resenting your partner
All of this can also negatively impact your relationship. The challenges affecting the default parent can cause issues with communication and intimacy. If left unaddressed, the default parent’s frustration can evolve into contempt, which is hazardous for the relationship.
If you find yourself as the default parent and you’re not sure how you got there, it’s time to address the issue in your relationship. It all starts with communication and resetting expectations.
How Did I End Up as the Default Parent? | Psychology Today
The Default Parent | HuffPost Life
I’m My Kids’ Default Parent But I’ve Made My Husband Intervene More Often
Five Strategies to Help Your Teen Deal with Post-Pandemic Anxiety
Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.
After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.
This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?
For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty.
As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3
If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing.
1. Keep the dialogue open.
2. Normalize their feelings.
Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important.
3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.
In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.
4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.
You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having.
5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.
If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.
One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:
There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on.
1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.
2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety
3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8
4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138
5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm
7 Strategies to Help Your Child Deal With Post-Pandemic Anxiety
Children, like adults, were struck with a sudden bombshell when COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Everything changed abruptly. Think about it. One day, they’re at school and seeing their friends. The next day, they’re home for an extended period. They’re isolated. Their world changed: masks, loneliness, increased family time, canceled activities, etc. The structure, predictability, and consistency kids need to thrive: gone. That’s a tough experience for a child to live through. It was even hard for adults.
As kids come out of the pandemic, it’s no wonder that so many are experiencing anxiety. Recent studies suggest the pandemic may be having a more adverse effect on adolescents than on adults.1 According to Dr. Bradley S. Jerson,2 your child may be dealing with post-pandemic anxiety if they are…
- Spending a lot more time alone
- Sleeping a lot more or less
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Not interested in their favorite activities
- Having changes in their overall mood
- More irritated or angry
- Stuck on negative thoughts
- Hopeless about the future
As their parent, you want to help them manage their anxiety and adjust to normalcy.
These strategies can help your child deal with post-pandemic anxiety.
1. Be aware of your own mental health.
The Child Mind Institute states “that dealing with your own anxiety can be the most powerful way to make sure your kids feel secure.”3 Your children take a lot of their cues from you. So do whatever is necessary for you to be in a good space mentally. Practicing good self-care will equip you to help your child.
2. Give your child space and freedom to talk through their emotions.
What young child can do that by themselves? Not many. Try to ask questions in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Try, “What do you feel when we make plans to go to the supermarket or back to school?” This lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is acceptable and even normal. Studies show that after an event like a pandemic, mental health issues such as anxiety are common.4 Child expert Dr. Gene Beresin recommends that parents consistently listen and validate their child’s thoughts and emotions. This can help them transition to post-pandemic life.5
3. Create some routines, predictability, and consistency.
Children thrive when they know what’s coming. And it helps them adjust and know who to turn to for the things they can’t foresee. Morning or nighttime routines are helpful. Picking them up from school at a consistent time is also good. Several studies have shown that eating family meals together is beneficial for kids’ mental state.
4. Ease them back into their norms when possible .
Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May and Dominique A. Phillips recommend taking smaller, manageable steps to move forward.6 Instead of going to an indoor birthday party, have your child choose a friend for an outdoor play date. Pick people and places that are most comfortable for your child, and use those spaces to help them overcome the paralyzing effects of their post-pandemic anxiety.
5. Talk them through what’s being done to keep them safe.
Young children look to their parents for security, safety, and protection. Asking your child what would make them feel safe can help them address their anxiety. Explaining what makes a situation safe helps build their trust in you as their parent to protect them.
6. Get support for your child.
If your child continues to struggle, talk to their pediatrician, a school counselor, or find a therapist. Don’t hesitate to ask your child if they’ve had thoughts of self-harm. **If they have, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 (24/7).**
7. Celebrate the positives.
Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, encourages parents to look for anything positive they can celebrate.7 Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on what our kids won’t do. Instead, highlight the good stuff they’re doing: the family time you’re spending together, the books they’re reading. This can help shift their mentality and calm their uneasiness.
Each child responds differently to change. Your love, compassion, and care in walking them through their challenges are often the most crucial ingredients to helping your child deal with change, fear, uncertainty, and post-pandemic anxiety. You got this!
1 The psychiatric sequelae of the COVID-19 pandemic in adolescents, adults, and health care workers.
3 The Child Mind Institute Anxiety and Coping With the Coronavirus
4 Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment
5 Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, Full professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
6 Here’s How to Help Your Kids Break Out of Their Pandemic Bubble and Transition Back to Being With Others
7 Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute
A Letter to the Dad Who Didn’t Have a Dad (or a Good Dad)
Can I ask you a question? When you found out you were going to be a dad, were there parts of you that thought, “I’m gonna crush this. Everything my dad wasn’t around to do, I’m gonna do, because I’m not gonna be like my dad…”? Or did you say to yourself, “I don’t know how to be anyone’s dad. I had no one to show me how to be a good dad…”?
It seems like being a good dad would be a lot easier if you had someone who showed you all the things you’re supposed to do. There’s a part of us that believes we can figure out everything on our own. Every once in a while, you may get a reality check when someone else notices there’s something you didn’t know.
Without a dad to tell you what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal to make mistakes.
And it’s ok to not know how to do something. How would you know the right time to just give a good, strong hug if you weren’t shown by your father? Are you a bad dad? Probably not. Could you be better? Couldn’t we all? Is it a bit of a disadvantage to not having someone show you the way? Quite possibly. Is all hope lost? Far from the truth.
Shaunti Feldhahn’s research shows that men often worry that they don’t have what it takes. We fear that one day the people closest to us will find out. When I heard that, it hit my heart. I thought to myself, “When my kid finds out that I don’t know how to do the dad stuff, then they won’t respect me or even like me.”
So what do you do?
You keep faking it and you keep being there. Keep being present, and keep listening to your kids’ stories. You keep telling them the little bit you do know. You keep making mistakes with them. Keep taking them places with you and keep hanging out. You keep hugging them when they hurt, challenging them when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And next thing you know, they start looking for you because they want to talk. They want to share their success and get encouragement after their failures.
One of the biggest things you can learn from your dad is to never run away.
Because if your dad did, you know how it feels. And that’s what hurts the most. Instead, lean into your children. Running away could mean leaving the family. It could also mean running away from talking, from dealing with issues, from being open and vulnerable, or running away from what you don’t know.
It seems like every good action movie has an amazing running scene where the hero is running into a dangerous situation. (Will Smith got famous from his Bad Boys running scene.) Fellow dad, run into the situation. Run to your kids. Run to the hard stuff in their lives. That’s how the heroes are made. Not just in the movies, but also in the heart of your child.
Other helpful blogs:
How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent
4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent
How Positive Parenting Impacts a Child’s Risk of Substance Abuse
Being a parent comes with great responsibility. It’s our duty and privilege to shape the next generation to be healthy and thriving. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. And there are positive parenting things we can do for our little ones now that will help prepare them to make good decisions, feel confident, and avoid creating bad habits like substance abuse in the future.
A study by the University of Otago in New Zealand has found that positive parenting can have numerous positive benefits for children. A team led by Professor Joe Boden analyzed data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, which has followed the lives of more than 1000 people born in Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1977.
Before we go too deep here, let’s answer the question, “What is positive parenting?”
Positive parenting focuses on encouragement and support rather than punishment to teach appropriate behavior. Psychology Today links positive parenting to “higher school grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance abuse, better mental health, greater social competence, and more positive self-concepts.”
Professor Boden’s team found that adolescents living in a more positive environment:
- Had lower alcohol and substance abuse rates.
- Experienced fewer mental health issues and less general stress.
- Were less likely to experience unemployment.
The Christchurch Study provided extensive information about the participants’ lives, including:
- Their exposure to violence and substance issues.
- How they perceived their parents’ parenting style.
- Alcohol use and abuse scores at specific ages.
- The impact of parenting style on alcoholism.
The team was especially interested in the correlation between positive parenting and a lesser risk of alcoholism. The study shows that parenting style could be far more impactful in people’s tendency toward alcohol or other substances than having access to it.
Several studies have shown that positive parenting has even more far-reaching effects.
Here are some ways that you can be a positive parent:
Build strong bonds.
Strong emotional bonds help create a safe base for kids to learn, explore, and relate to others. Experts call this “secure attachment.” Securely attached kids are more likely to handle challenges positively and learn how to manage their feelings and behaviors, and develop self-confidence. Through positive engagement with parents, kids learn to follow the rules and regulate their emotions.
Life is full of distractions from numerous priorities, extra work, and technology. When we’re emotionally and physically available to our kids, this helps them bond, develop language skills, and learn to interact socially. We need to communicate that our kids are valuable and important with our time. When we are stretched for time, we must take a moment and explain to our kids why we can’t spend the time with them that we’d like — and express that we don’t value them any less and will be more available to them soon.
Establish mutual respect.
Mutual respect is a cornerstone of positive parenting. Parents help kids understand why rules are made. When children understand the why for rules, they’re more willing to follow them. It can also help parents understand any misbehavior. Because of a stronger bond, parents are more likely to notice stressors impacting their children. Through this, parents and kids can learn to be more empathetic and better understand others.
Be a positive role model.
One huge rule of parenting is, “More is caught than taught.” We’ve all heard that phrase, but it’s the essence of parenting. If we respond to our kids in frustration and negativity, they’ll do the same to others and to us. How we respond to our kids’ challenging behaviors really does teach them how to react to others. Research shows that parental modeling impacts behaviors associated with alcohol and substance abuse.
Build higher self-esteem.
Positive parenting says there are no bad children, just good and bad behaviors. The focus is on learning for the future. Instead of yelling when a child misbehaves, a positive parent responds calmly, explaining why the behavior isn’t acceptable and what the consequences are. This process helps a child learn to make better choices down the road. Mistakes are learning opportunities for all of us.
By being positive parents, we can equip our children with the skills they need for future success. We can teach them to make wise decisions. And, we can help them avoid pitfalls along the way. If you don’t see yourself as a positive parent, it’s never too late to start.
Other helpful blogs:
How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent
How To Encourage Your Child’s Strengths
Why Do Secure Relationships Matter for Children?
How to Celebrate Mother’s Day With a Difficult Mom
Whether your relationship with your mom is a tad problematic or off-the-charts unhealthy, celebrating your mom on Mother’s Day can be difficult.
She might get on your nerves or make you feel like she’s constantly judging you.
Maybe you think your mom is a horrible parent, or you had a misunderstanding that seems impossible to overcome — and nobody wants to make the first move toward reconciliation.
Perhaps the pain is so deep that you can’t forgive or move forward. Or maybe you feel your mom is toxic, and cutting her out of your life seems like the safest thing to do emotionally. [Read 4 Things to Know About Emotional Safety.]
It’s a tough road to walk. And it makes Mother’s Day tricky to celebrate.
But whether you choose to visit your mom or stay far away for the holiday, chances are you’ll be thinking of each other in some way.
Whatever your situation, thinking about these six things may make it a bit easier to find some way to celebrate a difficult mom on Mother’s Day.
(Notice I said “may” and “easier” — not “definitely” OR “easy.” And there’s no excuse for abusive behavior. If that has happened to you, I’m so sorry!)
1. If you’re expecting perfection, you’ll be disappointed.
Here’s the thing: Nobody has a perfect mother. And nobody can be the perfect mother. But we all probably have an idea of what the perfect mother would look like. Unfortunately, our ideals often cause us to have unrealistic expectations that no one can meet. (Unless you’re married and your mother-in-law is perfect. That’s a whole other issue.)
2. Appreciate what you can.
There’s always something to be thankful for (at least according to Pollyanna). So, dig deep and think of what those things could be. Celebrate them, no matter how small. I recently went through some memorabilia my mom collected throughout the years. I found little love notes and cards I wrote my mom as a child. It reminded me that at one time, I thought she hung the moon.
3. Celebrate your mom for who you want her to be.
She might surprise you and rise to meet the challenge. You may need to use your imagination. Maybe you can’t honestly tell your mom how great she is, but you might be able to write her a letter, or send a card or text to say you’re thinking of her on Mother’s Day. (Even if your thoughts aren’t that great, it’s a start.)
4. Time changes people and perceptions.
As a child, did you ever think your mom didn’t know anything? Did your perspective change when you realized being an adult was a little more… complicated? I can tell you from experience that I see things differently as an adult. I learned some things I didn’t know. My perspective has shifted over the years.
5. You may know your mom as a parent, but do you know her as a person?
Understand the things that shaped her life? Did a loss profoundly impact her? What were her parents like? Parents are people who have stuff they need to deal with, just like we do. Life throws all kinds of things at us, and sometimes we aren’t equipped to handle it. But trying to understand what makes your mom tick can be helpful, especially if she isn’t the parent you wanted or needed.
6. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to do this alone.
Many people have a rocky relationship with their mom, but not everyone feels safe enough to discuss it with their mom or a friend. If you need to talk, but you don’t want everyone knowing your business, pain, or struggles, a good counselor can help you take the space you need to stay positive and move away from bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness can bring emotional and physical benefits that are healing for the person who chooses to forgive, regardless of what another does. If possible, forgive your mom, whether she asks you to or not.
Things may not get better today or ever, but there’s hope that your situation will change. You may learn to navigate through the conflict or at least improve the relationship. One of you might take a step toward a healthy conversation and forgiveness. That may be all it takes. And one day, it might be easier for you to celebrate more things about your mom on Mother’s Day. I hope it is.
Other helpful blogs:
How to Help Your Child Deal With Grief
There’s nothing easy about seeing your child experience grief. It’s hard enough for adults to process losing someone we love. So we often wonder how their little minds are handling something so hard to understand. How can you help our child out?
First, you need to know a few things about grief and children.
Grief is usually brought on by losing something valuable, a source of support, security, or endearment. Kids can grieve over all kinds of losses, from the death of a family member to a pet that runs away, a friend who moves, a missing stuffed animal, or parents separating. If it’s a significant loss for them, it’s a big cause of grief.
We usually associate grief with pain. If that’s all it was, it’d be a terrible thing we’d want to avoid.
But these feelings are only a part of grief. As a whole, grief is the process of working through the loss. Some call this moving toward “acceptance” or “back to normal.” However, healthy grief moves us beyond acceptance, and things never quite go back to normal. Grief done well causes us to be different than before the loss, perhaps more resilient or having a greater perspective on life.
Healthy grief helps us grow. We need to keep this in mind when helping our children through grief.
Here’s another thing to know: the grief process isn’t predictable with kids. There are no steps. Every child (and person, for that matter) grieves at their own pace, in their own time, in different waves and intensities of emotions. This makes it challenging for parents like you and me, who’d love to know what we can expect. You need to walk with your child through the process of grief at their pace.
Understand that it’s not our job to take the grief away. That’s tough, I know. We often feel what our kids are feeling. We see the pain, the hurt, the tears, the confusion — and we don’t want our child to experience that. But it is part of the process.
So how can we help our children process grief?
- Let your child open up and talk about what they’re feeling or thinking. Kids often don’t have the vocabulary to describe their deep feelings, so you may have to help your child find the words. If you can help them name their feelings, they can start to process what they feel. Another way to do this is to ask them how their feelings feel. Stick with me here:
- So how are you doing since Grandpa passed away?
- I’m feeling sad.
- I know what you mean — I feel sad, too. What does sadness feel like to you?
- It feels like everybody I know is going to go away. And that makes me scared.
- That must be scary. Let’s talk about that some more.
- Letting your child know that you are grieving can be reassuring to them. If they know that you also feel hurt, sad, and sometimes cry, it helps them feel normal. They may have intense feelings they’ve never felt before, and that’s hard for them to understand, too.
- It’s tempting to try and rationalize the loss with your child.
- Grandpa lived a good, long life.
- Friends move away sometimes, and we can make other friends.
There’s nothing wrong with this; it can help children begin to understand the reality of loss and death. However, keep in mind that loss or death is rarely rational to anyone who is grieving. If these kinds of ideas don’t comfort your child, don’t be alarmed.
As I said, every child grieves at their own pace. However, your child may struggle with grief for an extended time or have dramatic mood or personality changes. In that case, it might be time to get help from a professional counselor.
All children will experience loss and grief. At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s just a part of life. But we can help our kids work through grief in a way that allows them to gain a healthier perspective of life, loss, and themselves. And walking with your child at their pace will help them grow in a healthy way through the process of grief.