We Bought a Zoo: Helping Kids Deal with Grief
...Leading Your Children through Times of Loss
Click here to watch the trailer for the movie We Bought a Zoo, coming to theaters on December 23.
In We Bought a Zoo, Benjamin Mee, played by Matt Damon, loses his wife and mother of their two children. The film revolves around his efforts to create a normal, positive life for him and his kids. While not all of us may face a tragedy as deep as the one in the film, we will all have to deal with grief at some point in our lives.
Dads, your kids will look to you to be their source of strength and stability during those tough times. Benjamin Mee made the bold move of buying a zoo and helping run it with his children. Here are some tips to prepare you for the sad but inevitable times in your family's life when you will have to carry your children through a loss.
5 Tips for Helping Your Children Deal with Loss and Grief
- #1: Be honest: Share the truth about what happened to your loved one in a straight-forward but age-appropriate manner. Don't try to soften the news with euphemisms ("Grandma went away"). Make sure your children know they can always ask you any questions anytime. Some questions you won't be able to answer, and that's okay - just be honest with your kids that there are some things that happen in life that are hard for you to understand, too.
- #2: Let them see you grieve: Let your children know that it is okay to experience emotional pain by being willing to let them see you cry. Yes, your kids need you to "be strong" for them and help them adjust to the new normal, but they need to know that their emotions are valid by seeing you express how you are feeling as well.
- #3: Let them express their grief in their own way: Each child will respond to the loss differently. Anger, confusion, denial, fear, and sadness are all legitimate emotions. Some children will want to talk a lot about the loss, some children will prefer to have more time alone. As long as their expression of grief does not hurt themselves or others, give them permission to be angry, sad, or frustrated in a healthy way. Also, know that the grieving process may take longer from some children than for others.
- #4: Don't assume they're "okay" even if they're acting fine: Your children may seem to recover quickly and resume their "normal" life. However, they may feel pressure to "get over" the loss or might be bottling up their emotions. Ask what they are thinking and feeling about the adjustment. Your kids may not be able to put feelings into words - they might be able to express themselves by writing a letter or drawing.
- #5: Remember your loved one: There comes a time in the grieving process to accept and adjust to the new reality. But that doesn't mean you need to pretend that your loved one is not still an important part of your life story. Talk with your children about your favorite memories with your loved one, look at pictures together, and find ways to honor that person in your new family traditions and rituals. Giving the lost loved one a place in your new life is a helpful way for your family to grieve.
Check out these resources from Focus on the Family and National Association of School Psychologists for more guidance on helping your children deal with death, loss, and grief.