Photo by Kat J on Unsplash
Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

Parenting through Change and Loss


We have a son and daughter, ages 10 and 7, and over the past two years we’ve experienced some significant changes and losses including moving to a different state, the death of a beloved family pet and my wife’s diagnosis of fibromyalgia—a lot of changes in a short time.  How can we help our kids deal with these changes and losses in healthy ways?


Losses can range from a losing a toy or moving to a new neighborhood to the death of a pet or even a beloved grandparent.   Regardless of how big or small it appears to you, it’s probably looks and feels a lot different for your children.

In the Heart of Parenting, John Gottman talks about the unhealthy response of either dismissing or disapproving of our children’s feelings.  Never minimize the significance of the loss.  What may seem minor to you can be very look major through their eyes.

Some of the behavioral symptoms of concern can include increased crying, worry, decreased performance at school, changes in usual sleeping and eating patterns, increased isolation, bedwetting, and unreasonable fears.

Your first step is to find out what is developmentally normal for each child.  Norm Wright, in his wonderful book “It’s Okay To Cry” reminds us that “Developmentally, their brains don’t work like ours.  Their reasoning is immature, and their understanding of the nature of cause and effect often immerses them in undue pain.”

The next step is to see this as an opportunity to love them and to reassure them that God loves them.  Other steps include:

  • Listen.  Let them talk without interrupting.  Ask clarifying questions and then listen some more.
  • Touch them.  Hold them.  Take their hands when you pray with them.
  • Let them see and hear you express your emotions.
  • Put words to your emotions like sadness, sorrow, and grief.

Help them find words for their emotions.  Helping children deal with transition and loss provide a unique opportunity to help them better understand their emotions and grow their emotional vocabulary—essential skills for every aspect of life.

In Romans 12:15 Paul instructs us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn” and this is especially wise counsel for us in helping our children deal with a transition or loss.

We can’t keep our kids from experiencing the pain of loss, but we can help them deal with the loss in ways that go beyond helping them get through it.  We can help them develop a set of coping skills that will help them deal with the inevitable losses.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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