We often think about grief and loss as being adult experiences and emotions. However, Missionary Kids (MK’s) experience incredible amounts of loss with their frequent travel and moving. They lose their best friends when they leave a country or someone goes on furlough, their favorite toys (or motorcycles) and even encounter the loss of people who live in their cross cultural communities.
There are some effective ways to help children, especially MK’s, deal with loss and grieving. We can think about loss as losing or leaving people, places or things; and grief as our emotional response to that loss. The challenge with MK’s is they experience losses and grief with regularity but may not have developed ways to adapt or be able to express what they are feeling. This can be further complicated depending on the type of loss, whether it is an anticipated loss (moving, leaving, changing assignments) or unexpected loss (death, evacuation, sudden change).
The Anticipated Loss…
The time may have come for your home assignment, a new role in a different place, a permanent change or a change happening to close friends or neighbors. It is important to approach the change by keeping your children informed and allowing them opportunities to say goodbye in their own ways. Saying goodbye so frequently makes it easy to detach and withdraw from making new friendships. However, MK’s tend to love deeply and hold lightly by building relationships quickly.
As parents, help your kids stay in touch with their friends and teach them how to continue important relationships. One adult MK said that when leaving the field his parents gave him a box to put in whatever he wanted to take with him. While it was full of rocks and snakeskins, it was a powerful way for him to say goodbye and take some of his important things home with him. Consider taking your children to their favorite restaurants or places – whatever was important to them and let them trade keepsakes with their friends. As you leave allow your children to talk about what they have left behind and to tell their favorite stories (be sure to listen, listen, listen). Help them write, draw, or scrapbook in a way that helps them preserve the things they enjoyed about where they lived.
The Unexpected Loss…
This is challenging for everyone in the family. It may be the death of someone, sudden evacuation, riots, injuries and illness. As parents it may be hard to remember to help your kids deal with grief when you are grieving as well. Here are three ways to help your kids (and yourselves) with unexpected losses.
- Preparation is being ready and to discuss during family time about things that could possibly happen, in way that doesn’t frighten the kids. It allows everyone know what to expect if those situations happen.
- Participation in dealing with the change or crisis, like giving the kids certain responsibilities and ways to help (even if it requires more work from the parent). Being involved helps the children have a sense of control and see order to the chaos.
- Resolution is what happens once the crisis is over and there is a sense of normalcy. Your family can process together by talking about the loss and expressing angry, sad or lonely emotions. In addition, it is essential to your well being to let your friends, family and co-workers surround you with their care and love.
James Covey, MA, LPC