When we lose someone important we also lose what Dr. Alan Wolfelt refers to as our “mirror”. These are the people who help us know who we are by the way our lives are reflected back through them. Mirror people shape us, love us, form part of our self-identities, and help us understand our place in this world. When our mirror person is gone our hearts protest,
“I feel lost! I don’t have my mirror anymore to help me know who I am!”
Naturally, children struggle with self-identity when someone dies because they’re building their own understanding of how they relate to the world. Losing a mirror person in childhood is catastrophic.
Here are three ways you can help a child create a new identity when someone in their mirror is gone:
- Keep talking about their relationship with their person.
- Expose children to ways kids like them are working to create new identities.
- Help children express their love and connectedness to the person they lost.
Keep talking about their relationship with their person:
Children will tell you what they are worried about if you give them space and time. It’s important to help a child know that they will always be a son, daughter, sister, cousin, or friend. And it’s just as important to acknowledge that the relationship is forever changed. In many ways, they are still that same person they see in the mirror, but yes, they are changed.
Expose children to ways kids like them are working to create new identities:
Help me to feel, hear, see, learn…do.
Giving children access to carefully selected stories, movies, age appropriate online grief support, and enrollment in peer-supported grief groups and bereavement support camps are some of the ways you can help children learn how other kids are working through grief. They have lost someone, but while connecting with other people’s stories, they may add a new mentor or two to their mirror. Find these resources at:
Help children express their love and connectedness to the person they lost:
This is where linking objects are so important. Give children access to items belonging to their person and let them choose some things to keep in their room, pocket or backpack. Make something to hold from the clothing of a loved one. Make a memory book with drawings, photos, and stories about times shared. Teachers, encourage making memory stories with children at school and care and talk freely about the things they loved about their person when they were here. Remind young children repeatedly that they will always be that child, grandchild, or friend. Help them remember and stay connected to the love they feel for their beloved.
Copyright (2016) Suzanne Bayer. All Rights Reserved.