Grief and loss can be complicated and hard to discuss as adults, but even more difficult for children and adolescents. Sharing stories and memories, honoring the person who passed, or simply talking about it can be very helpful. As for those who do not have the words or the understanding that grief is making them feel a certain way, it can be confusing and scary.
Batman not only lost his parents at a young age, but he witnessed the crime. Batman made it his life's mission to avenge his parents and clear Gotham City of criminals. Batman channeled his sadness and grief into positive actions, but he could have become a criminal himself. We can use Batman’s actions to appropriately discuss grief and loss with our children.
Children and adolescents resort to behaviors when feeling overwhelmed and not able to express themselves. We may see a change in the behavior of a child following the loss of a loved one, but not necessarily associate it with the loss. It is important to be prepared to talk about the loss as well as what your child may be feeling.
1. How grief and loss may look in children and adolescents
The difficult part when treating grief and loss is that it can look different in each person. As adults, we are able to talk about how we feel, share stories/memories, and process grief over time. Many children and adolescents do not have the words or the understanding to pinpoint grief as a a reason for the big feelings or acting out.
The following symptoms may be associated with grief and loss-
How you can talk to your child:
“I know it has been a couple of days/weeks since we lost [loved one]. You know, Batman lost his parents at a young age and had a difficult time. He would stay up all night working in the Batcave and keep to himself. Are you having a hard time sleeping, too? Has anything else also been hard? Batman was also irritable and grouchy with Alfred. Have there been times when you have felt grouchy, especially when missing [loved one]?”
2. Noticing behavior changes and how to react
As parents, we notice when children or adolescents are acting out, but are not always able to associate a reason or trigger. Grief and loss can take time to feel and gradually impact a child’s mental health. Taking the time to point out changes in behavior without punishing them can open the door to a good discussion about grief and loss.
How to talk to your child:
“Do you think Batman thinks about his parents often? How do you think Batman feels when he does think about them? I bet he is feeling sad, angry, and hurt. I wonder if other people feel the same thing as him when they think about someone they love and lost.”
3. Learning skills and words to express yourself
As Batman makes friends, helps to save the city, and falls in love, he comes out of his home more often and begins to engage in “self-care.” He dresses in suits and attends social functions, which are all positive coping skills. Grief and loss can be complicated and impact many different aspects of life. Our senses can remind us of the person we lost at a time we are not prepared to grieve. This is a time when children and adolescents may act out and we may not connect it to grief.
How to talk to your child:
“I noticed that Batman still lives in his childhood home, but spends most of the time in his Batcave. I wonder if he is sad living in that big house without his parents. Does Batman look happier when he is around people he loves and that love him? Do you feel happier when you are around other people (or your family)? What else did Batman do to make himself feel better? What have you done in the past to feel happier/less sad?”
4. When it is appropriate to ask for help?
While it is normal to feel sad, or not always happy, feelings should appropriately match the situation. Batman was sad due to his grief and loss but was having a difficult time moving forward and grieving. When grief affects Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) such as hygiene, eating appropriately, self-care, or relationships, it is time to seek help. It is better to seek help before ADLs are impacted, but we are happy to see a client at any time during their journey.
How to talk to your child:
“Do you think it was hard for Batman to get out of bed in the mornings? Do you ever feel like pulling the covers over your head and staying there all day? One way to feel less sad about our loss is to share fun memories of [loved one]. Would you like to tell me a story about you and [loved one]? I would love to hear about some of your memories and I can share one of mine if you would like. Would you like to hear a happy, funny, or loving memory today?”
To wrap up, here is an example of a script to talk to your child:
“Have you noticed that Batman seems sad or depressed? What do you think is going on with him? I am wondering if he is feeling sad or depressed because he lives alone, doesn’t have too many friends, and lost his parents when he was a child.
I bet there are times that you are feeling sad. Sometimes when I see you, you look sad or I see you crying. Is there something that you can think of that is making you sad? When Batman is acting out, he is usually feeling sad. When you are angry, is there something that is also making you sad?
I think we can talk about Batman and how he is feeling and relate it to you. When you are alone in your room, you may feel like a “Dark Knight.” When Batman leaves his home and surrounds himself with friends, do you think he is happier or sad?
Grief is a combination of emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, joy, gratitude, anxiety, relief, confusion, and frustration. It is okay to feel any of the emotions, but we get to choose how we act or express them. Batman chooses to use grief as fuel to make Gotham City a safer place for everyone. You can choose to yell, scream, or act out, or we can talk about how you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. Working together can be helpful, just like Batman working with the police to catch criminals.
I am super proud of you for allowing me to help you. I know Batman would not be able to catch all of the criminals without the help of Catwoman, Robin, and the police!”
I encourage you to comment below or ask questions in the post, I’d love to hear your feedback.
If you have a question or topic you think would be a good fit, please feel free to email me at WhitneyThompsonLCPC@gmail.com or if you are interested in scheduling a therapy appointment, click here.