Teaching Our Kids to Lament

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Teaching kids how to lament is a valuable tool.

Lamenting is a lost art.

The definition of lamenting, according to Google dictionary, is “the act of mourning a loss or the passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” This may not sound like something we should strive to maintain. Yet, I believe that lamenting is indeed not only a necessary action, but also a significant rhythm to give permission to practice.

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Why Should We Lament?

When there is no culturally normalized way to move through a loss, the lack of acceptable outlet multiples the emotions. Our culture has made expressions of grief and loss taboo; we have no ritual to guide us in these dark places – no socially acceptable traditions to give us footing. In ancient times, people sat in sackcloth and ashes, and others sat with them. Mourning rituals were prescribed actions that gave the grieving permission to do so.

A child can learn how to grieve and feel sadness in a healthy way.

Sorrow Is Inevitable

As moms, we teach our kids many things, with intention and by example. Are we also teaching they can endure hard things and how? This is an age of lamenting, from pandemics to racial tensions to natural disasters. It’s our tendency to shelter our kids, which is part of the job. It’s also our role to prepare our kids for the adulthood.

Grief, loss, and sorrow are inevitable. My kids are the first generation to grow up in the digital era. Seeing tragedy and events in real time is a byproduct of technology. No matter how you manage technology use in your home, know that your children will experientially feel current events in ways we never did.

Our kids have experienced the loss of classroom learning, planned activities, and normal life. They are living with the pressure to succeed. Kids are also far more intuitive than we give them credit for; they sense when we are upset about world events and personal struggles. Giving them tools for all the parts of life is an incredible gift.

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Teach a kid how to lament.How Do We Teach Kids to Lament?

Being intentional to guide our children through lamenting is life skill they need. Lest we overcomplicate this, it’s simply being a safe place where they can talk about their sadness, anger, and fears.  

      1. Use emotion charts. Print off a chart of emojis to help teach the vocabulary, connecting words to feelings. Having vocabulary doesn’t just give a way to express emotions, it gives permission to do so.
      2. Be a student of your child. Pay attention to body language, mood, and facial expressions. When you see the signs of rising emotions, say something. Open the conversation, saying, “I see your fists clenched, and you look teary. Let’s talk about that.” Pull out the emotion chart and invite your child to talk about how they feel and why.
      3. Be the example. Do not put on a mask, stuff all the negative feelings, or attempt to be a robot. Let your child know when you feel sad and why, and how you’ll handle that. Our kids need to know it’s not their job to make us feel better, but they do need some reference points for managing grief and loss by seeing and knowing how you do it.
      4. Make it concrete. Loss is abstract, particularly to a child. Think about any way that you can approach the grief in concrete ways to create your own lamenting rituals. Guide them to write a goodbye letter to a pet or create a video telling all the things they loved about a friend who’s moved away. We let our kids choose an object from their grandmother’s house to hold as a reminder of her. When our child was cut from a beloved sport, we allowed them to box up all the equipment and donate it. Our most emotive child was allowed to tear up paper or punch a pillow when the big feelings took over.
      5. Be present. We want to be able to kiss the boo-boos and take the sting out, but this isn’t how life always works. When we can’t remove the pain, we do well to simply sit in it with them. Knowing they aren’t alone is significant. Recently, one of my kids was struggling. I asked if they wanted to be alone or have me sit next to them, then I asked if they want to talk or be silent and cry. I didn’t feel as though I did anything helpful, but it was exactly what was needed.

Don’t we all know that life is not sunshine and roses? Because loss and grief are inevitable, let’s be moms bold and brave to teach our kids how to handle the hard stuff. I’ve found in this pursuit that actually, my kids often become the teacher.

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Heather has called the Fort Worth area home since 1995, after growing up as an Army brat and preacher's kid. She's married to her college sweetheart, Chris (Sic' Em Bears!). They're parents to three - Collin (1999), Cooper (2001), and Caris (2004), and they're gaining daughter, Elizabeth, after Collin's August 2022 wedding. Heather is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, The Adoptee Collective, which offers lifetime adoptee support and post adoption resources, as well as pre-adoption education. Heather has authored and published multiple books, finding joy in using her gifts, time, and energy toward her life goal to finish empty.

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