Instead of “Kids say the darndest things!” I would like to change it to, Adults say the darndest things to a child after a death of a parent.
I assume people are doing the best that they know how, so if we teach them to be aware of what to say and why things should go smoother in this uncomfortable situation.
Here are some statements that were said to my children after their dad passed away. I will give you the insider’s perspective on what was going through my mind when they said it. Then some better options of what could be said instead. We teach our children how to live, so we should teach them how to grieve in a healthy way when there is death.
7 things not to say to kids who have lost a parent:
To my 13-year-old boy, “You are the man of the house now.”
My comment: No. He is the 13-year-old boy at the house now- just like he was before. I am still the parent and now get to be the mom and the dad. He is not a dad and that puts way too much pressure on him. I want him to live as a normal teenager would live. Telling him he needs to help around the house a lot more now, sad to say, but he has already figured that out. Kids naturally take on a sense of responsibility and often think the death could have been their fault, so please don’t add to the burden. I’m trying to teach my kids boundaries- what’s ok and what’s not ok. Placing that burden on a 13-year-old is not ok.
To my kids, “You need to be really strong now for your mom.”
My comment: No. You need to honor your feelings. Strong people cry. Strong people talk about their feelings- it’s ok to be sad, mad, hurt, and scared. Kids also take what you say literally- strong could mean going to the gym and lifting weights. Why would I need to do that when my dad just died? Kids’ perspective is very different and we don’t want to give them the feeling that death is something we don’t talk about.
To my kids: “Your dad is in a better place.”
My comment: No! Dad’s favorite place to be is with you. I don’t want to give them more unsolved mysteries. Have you been to this better place? How do you know he likes it better? Also telling them that their Dad had more important work to do on the other side makes them feel they don’t matter. No, I don’t believe that God needed him more than you do, it just worked out that way. Tell them of their dad’s love for them instead.
To my kids: “I know how you feel.”
My comment: Really? They don’t even know how they feel. They may think literally, Were you 5 when your dad died while he was hiking? Comparing loss never helps. So please don’t say that you know how they feel because your grandma died because grandma doesn’t live at our home as their dad did. DO SAY… I liked it when people said, I have no idea what you are going through, but just know I am here for you and will support you any way I can.
To my kids: “You were cheated.”
My comment: No. Life is full of challenges but I know you are one who will overcome anything difficult because we can do hard things. You are resilient! You will be given many opportunities in life to look for the good, and this is one of them. This child just learned that life does not have guarantees, not that they are a victim. Positive comments, please.
To my kids: “At least _____ .”
My comment: I have always looked at life positively and can usually find something that could be worse, but this one- the death of a parent- I’m not sure I can find much worse. Not at the moment. So words like at least he didn’t suffer, at least he got to see you in one football game, at least __ doesn’t help at all. Empathy is what I want more of and it is when you can be WITH someone, not feel for them.
Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection. Brene Brown
To my kids: “… nothing said… “
My comment: Please say something. I know it is awkward, but ignoring the kids will make them feel they don’t matter. If you think they are too young to grieve, it’s not true- if you are old enough to love, you are old enough to grieve. If you have ever watched a baby see daddy come through the door and they smile and reach for them, they love. So yes, they grieve.
Tell the kids you love them. You are thinking of them. You’re sorry. This sucks. You will do something with them, then do it. Tell them something special or an experience about their dad/mom- that’s how we teach kids to honor their loved one.
. . . . YOU ARE THE KID’S LIGHTHOUSE . . .
**POST BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND — First published April 2016