Most of us feel awkward and uncomfortable around people who are grieving—sometimes even people we are very close to. We don’t want to say the “wrong thing” or inadvertently offend someone who is already in a difficult emotional state. We worry that bringing up the person who they have lost will bring back all the pain when they seem to have been feeling lighter for a while. We are concerned we might burst into tears and burden the one who is grieving or that that person might sob and we won’t know how to comfort them. And it is likely that your child feels like that as well. We hear in our work commonly from parents describing how their child didn’t know what to say to a friend whose grandparent died, nonetheless someone even more immediate like their parent or sibling. Our discomfort leads to difficulty guiding our children about this, yet it is an important thing to learn how to do as we are all confronted with grieving people at points in our lives.

Why do we get so awkward when we might otherwise be articulate and at ease in conversation? At the root of it is our own discomfort with death—our own mortality and that of the people we hold dear. We want to avoid touching into that painful notion. It makes us anxious and sad. It brings up past losses we have had. This inhibits us from accessing our usual empathic ability. And we freeze—shut down emotionally—and can’t be open-hearted and natural.

In our decades of experience working with those who are grieving, we have heard how much they want warmth and naturalness around them. Many would prefer you say something that might inadvertently not resonate with what they are feeling over being aloof or avoiding them altogether. Many feel that if you cry, as long as you are not asking them to make you feel better, it can even be a comfort because it shows that you care about them and can feel their pain. They may cry and not need anything from you other than your staying there, not backing off. Saying the name of the person who died is often experienced as a gift—that person is not forgotten. There is some delicacy in assessing whether someone grieving wants to talk about it or not, wants to be touched or not, wants company or not. You can just ask them.

The most important thing that you can do to help guide your child in talking with a grieving peer is to sort out your own feelings about death and loss and perhaps the particular loss your child’s friend is experiencing. That loss might be of someone you also know or it might be stirring emotionally because it taps into deep fears of your own, like the death of another parent might.

Having done this, you are then steady and sturdy with whatever your child’s reaction to this loss might be. It can help to ask yourself how you think your child might react to give you some sense of what is to come in the conversation, but any parent knows how much their child can surprise them at times, so it is good to keep that in mind.

Here are some guidelines we suggest you offer your child after you have checked in with them about how uneasy they feel (or not) talking with their grieving friend.

After they see their friend, you would check back in with your child asking how it went and if they would like to think more about continuing contact with them.

Having this conversation with your child after you feel grounded leads to a child who will be able to be with grieving people and offer them an empathic and compassionate connection. This is a gift to your child in their friendships and if your child is the one who has had a loss when they are with peers.

QOSHE - Why Is It So Hard to Talk With Someone Who Is Grieving? - Elena Lister
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Why Is It So Hard to Talk With Someone Who Is Grieving?

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07.06.2024

Most of us feel awkward and uncomfortable around people who are grieving—sometimes even people we are very close to. We don’t want to say the “wrong thing” or inadvertently offend someone who is already in a difficult emotional state. We worry that bringing up the person who they have lost will bring back all the pain when they seem to have been feeling lighter for a while. We are concerned we might burst into tears and burden the one who is grieving or that that person might sob and we won’t know how to comfort them. And it is likely that your child feels like that as well. We hear in our work commonly from parents describing how their child didn’t know what to say to a friend whose grandparent died, nonetheless someone even more immediate like their parent or sibling. Our discomfort leads to difficulty guiding our children about this, yet it is an important thing to learn how to do as........

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