Helping kids deal with grief


Travelling with our kids is an incredible gift we’re giving to them. We know it. We are constantly reminded of it by others. They know it. And even at their young ages, they often verbalize that they are grateful for it.

But we’re also causing them grief. In the actual sense of the word. We are not naive or insensitive to the fact that moving around so much also causes our girls a lot of loss. We have lost physical things like our boat. And we have had less “clear cut” losses, like contact with friends, certain weekly traditions, and routines. That’s a lot to deal with.

We all grieve. The adults as much as the kids. Remember the post about me quietly crying for an entire flight!


Helping kids cope with the emotions of moving to a new country


But kids grieve in a slightly different way. They may not have all of the words to express how they are feeling. They may not realize that the reason they are angry is because of their change in environment. Or they may not overtly show their sadness, but be reminded of it in the oddest of moments.

We can’t shelter them from loss, it’s going to happen their entire lives. We move around a lot, so they will feel it due to our lifestyle. But they will also feel it from all sorts of external factors that we can’t stop…like heartbreak. Or the loss of a family member. Or, even something as simple as the loss of a favourite toy.

Instead of dwelling on the grief, and wallowing in a pit of despair. We want to arm our kids with the tools to move through it without it hindering their upcoming adventures and the rest of their lives. I think the goal for most parents is to have their kid become a well-adjusted adult.


Helping kids cope with the emotions of moving to a new country


Communication is key. But you will also have to invest time and energy if you want it done right. No one gets over grief in a day. Your kid will have to accept the loss, work through the pain of it, and adjust to a new environment.

Here are some of the things that we have taught our girls, to help them cope with loss and transitioning.


1. We Are Doing This With You

That feeling of being comforted by someone is powerful. Even as an adult, whenever I am sick I just want to be loved and cared for. We want our girls to know that no matter the changes, we will be there with them. Comforting them. Listening to them. Or just being there. They will have our attention when they need it, and they will have our hugs when they want them.


Helping kids deal with grief


2. A Lot Will Change, But Not Everything Will

Kids thrive on routine. So although we will be changing country, we will be changing languages, we will not be changing everything. We will still have our morning cuddles, and bedtime routines. We’ll keep having family supper and movie nights. Many things will change and evolve, but we will not be tossing their entire world upside down.


Helping kids deal with grief


3. You Will Be Heard

I won’t pretend to know exactly what my kid is going through. I have not lived this exact same experience. Sure I may have gone through something similar at one point, but I am not my child. Our brains work differently. I cannot claim that “I know how you feel”.

Instead we work on listening to their words. How they feel. And talking through it. We talk through it without justifying our reasons for the move. This is not about us right now, this is about how they are feeling, in their world. We try and understand where their fears or anger is coming from and giving them encouragement and guidance to move forward.

We work on not just hearing them, but listening to them. This means putting the phone down, making eye contact, and showing understanding for what they are expressing. I often have my phone in hand, but make a conscious decision to shut it off and put it down when my girls need to talk about something.


4. Your Emotions Are Normal And OK

The range of emotions that our girls work through as we move is normal, and ok. They feel everything from sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, fear, anxiety, to being excited and happy. They can be all over the emotional map, and that is ok. But no matter what, we want them to know that we are all ears. We will not be upset with them for being frustrated about something. Or for having their own opinions. Our parenting goal is not to control them. It is to listen to and guide them.

The other night I had a conversation with Ellia where she told me she is nervous about starting school and the possibility of her Spanish-speaking teacher not understanding her. And in the next sentence she tells me how excited she is to eat tacos and churros “all the time”. It’s nice to have her tell me about all of this and be able to give her advice to help her through it. We reminded to her that there are other ways to communicate with her teacher to get her point across (pointing, miming, showing, imitating, and single-word speech). And also reminded her that we may not be eating churros daily. Emotional (and dietary) balance is healthy!


Helping kids deal with grief


5. What Do You Think?

They may be young, but they do get a say. Our choices affect their little lives, and we want them to know that they are being heard. We do ask them their opinion. We explain to them that it may not go the way they want, but that we will take their opinion into account. Feeling some sort of control in the situation helps them deal with the change.

As we were struggling to decide when to move to Mexico, if we should try and be there for the first day of school, or go when Eben is with us too, we asked the girls what they would like. We explained to them the situation and what each decision would entail. Both girls expressed that they wanted to stay in Canada a little while longer and enjoy time with family and friends. And they they did no care if they were at school on day 1. Of course they do not have the final say, but it was good to hear their opinions and reasoning.


6. These Feelings Won’t Disappear Overnight

It has been months since we sold the boat, but we still check in with the girls to see “how they’re doing”. It was a momentous change for them, and feelings of loss or sadness may sneak up on them at any time. It’s good for them to talk about it, and keep a spot in their hearts for that loss. Those feelings of loss will one day turn into fond memories.

The girls used to tell us that they missed their preschool in the Dominican Republic. Now when they talk about it they have huge smiles and tell us, “Remember when we did…”


Helping kids cope with the emotions of moving to a new country


IMPORTANT TO NOTE: You Are Grieving Too

It’s also super important to remember that you are grieving too. You will be going through your own mixed emotions. Don’t neglect them. But also don’t let them take away from your child’s emotions either. Be a solid example. Show them that it is ok to feel a certain way (cry on airplanes if you need to!), and to talk about it. Take care of yourself. And show them that you can have those emotions without letting them hold you back from the endless new adventures and encounters ahead.


Helping kids cope with the emotions of moving to a new country


Do you have any tips, tricks, or games that have helped your little ones cope with loss of any kind. It’s always helpful to have some extra tricks up our sleeves!