“Grief” Kids

I found myself writing a comment on the blog of a another widowed blogger about kid anxiety and thought I would share what tiny morsels of wisdom I have gleaned over the years:

The anxiety thing in “grief” kids is so hard. And so common. Both my kids have struggled with anxiety in one way or another. Carter struggled with separation anxiety whereas in Olivia it shows up in a more OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) way.

Therapy has helped, though Carter has rebelled lately against therapy, which is presenting a whole new set of challenges. When I did get him to a therapist a few years ago, when things were really bad, he got onto meds for a while, and it changed our lives. He got to feel what it felt like to feel “normal” if just for a while. I beat myself up at first over something I vowed I would never do: give my kids meds, but seeing how all our lives changed so much, it was worth the risk and in the end it was for less than a year. Happily, Olivia likes going to a therapist and remains med-less.

Here are a few things that have helped us all cope with anxiety/anger/OCD/grief over the years:

  1. Writing out a list of phone numbers that the kids could call in case anything should happen to me. It was a huge piece of Carter’s anxiety and helped him quite a bit. He keeps the paper in his desk.
  2. Homework usually brings the tears. Sometimes it really is about homework, but sometimes it spirals into something altogether different. Before it gets to that point, try and break the homework up, so its less daunting. Try getting the child to do a problem then make them do 20 sit ups then do another problem and repeat. It doesn’t have to be sit-ups. My kids were just the physical types, so moving their bodies was what worked best. It could be any activity that they enjoy doing.
  3. Get your inner dad on. Wrestle/tickle times on the bed are huge stress relievers for everyone, mom included. Be prepared for a few bumps and bruises.
  4. A cell phone. Depending on your kids’ ages, they may seem really young, but a cell phone can be a huge stress reliever for grieving kids. Carter got his first phone at age 8. I ignored the duff I got from other moms, about him being too young. It got him through a trip to Disney which turned out to be a pretty major stressor, one I didn’t anticipate.
  5. Finding a kids’ grief group. Not always easy, particularly in small communities, but allowing kids the opportunity to talk to other kids like them is huge. One Caveat: For Carter this didn’t work as a lot of these groups are focused on remembering their loved one. For a kid who was too little to remember their loved one, this is just another source of stress and frustration.
  6. If your kid is resistant to therapy, see a child therapist yourself on their behalf. Often the therapist can give you tips and tricks to use on your child. You may even find a way to progress enough for your child to join you.
  7. For some kids, journaling may help. Get them to write thier thoughts down, especially when emotions rear their ugly heads. Mine would never do it, but maybe yours might. It could even be for just collaging, or drawing. Nothing like a little art therapy.
  8. Bear therapy. Be aware of your inner monster. We all have moments when we want to/do explode. There were times when I could feel myself boil over and I would tell my kids “My bear is coming out.” If they didn’t stop their annoying behavior, I would growl like a bear, instead of explode. The next time I said “my bear is coming out,” they immediately stopped the annoying behavior. Worked like a charm and I found a way of diffusing my own frustration/anger.

I wish I could say getting kids through grief wasn’t always going to be a tough slog,  but it is. It gets easier as we as parents get stronger and as kids get older.

You are doing a great job, all you widowed parents out there, trust me. A super-human effort is never easy. Stay firm and keep consistent.

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  1. Rebecca Young February 2, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    My daughter was 15 months old when my husband died. Her grief comes out when it’s bed time. Now, at nearly 5 years old, I am still having problems getting her to sleep. It’s difficult.
    Thanks for your tips, I need a new way to diffuse my anger and frustration too.
    The bear technique will appeal to my daughter’s age.
    I enjoy reading your blog.

    1. Abigail - Site Author February 2, 2011 at 9:03 pm


      Yes, Carter was just two and I had terrible times with him at bedtime too. He still hates going to bed and he’s 11 now! Some kids are just wired that way, but sometimes its the anxiety. To kids, lights out can mean a kind of death to them. We went through all kinds of permutations with lights on/off, doors open/closed, closet door closed, etc. The only thing that sort of helped was a solid bed time routine. Our was called “snuggle bunny” where he would lie in my bed with me and watch TV until bed time. It seemed to calm him and since it happened every night, there were no surprises. Didn’t always work, but it helped.

      Hang in there.

  2. Leslie February 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Homework…ugh…the dreaded homework. So many tears and procrastination. It always seems so daunting for my 8 yr old. Thanks for the tips above Abby, I will try to use them when I feel my inner monster brimming beneath the surface (as it was this evening). And thank you for always being so positive. We all need more positive can-do inspiration like yours.


    1. Abigail - Site Author February 2, 2011 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Trust me, I wasn’t always so positive 😉

  3. Cathy February 3, 2011 at 12:26 am

    You are such a good mom! I remember a few of these coping skills you told me about in SanDiego. I am getting my 8 year old a Cel phone soon, he has such sep anxiety. We will see how that goes. Things are going good up here in the cold cold north!!

  4. Jill Schacter February 3, 2011 at 2:15 am

    I love a couple of the ideas here especially: getting your inner dad on and the bear. I am going to remember more often, particularly with my son, about how much fun the physicality of a dad can be. More wrestling, I say! As for the bear, I think I’m showing mine less and less, but I’m not sure the kids would agree. A mother’s anger is something they don’t easily forget. Might as well make it “bearable”. Thanks for the good ideas.

    P.S. I’d love to meet you some time if you ever come to Chicago!

    1. Abigail - Site Author March 26, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      So glad my ideas have been useful. I would love to get to Chicago one of these days. I’ve never been. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Sympathy March 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    The tips you shared concerning coping with grief are very helpful, touching. Thanks!

    1. Abigail - Site Author March 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm

      Glad to be of help!

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