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Grieving Styles and Family Dynamics

Grieving Styles and Family Dynamics (adapted from Grieving Styles and Family Dynamics-Communicating with Children & Teens, Andy MCNiel, MA, by Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC


What is normal when we are grieving? Normal is what you need it to be, for you. We share common characteristics, yet grief is as individual as each of us are. Cry, do not cry, stay busy, work it out, talk to someone, be a part of a group. People give us guidance on how we ought to grieve, usually based upon their own experience. There is no roadmap, and we have our own preferences on grieving which can lead to some family dynamic challenges. We may bump into each other, affecting our grieving.


Creating a sense of awareness of each other whether children, teens, or adults, in the family, can create greater understanding. Consider personality and preferences. How does your (child/teen/adult) feel most comfortable being in the world? Are they comfortable in a crowd, do they interact or hide? Are they more quiet and introverted or extroverted? Do they seem anxious about things or more comfortable with new experiences?


Think through these questions applied to grief. When someone dies, children, and sometimes even adults, may not have any context for what the death means for their lives. It can be completely new, having to adapt grief into their world. There will be struggle, as struggle is a natural part of adapting. In the struggle, we come back to doing things we know, that fit our personality, and as we realize this isn’t working, we seek and find other behaviors/coping that fit better.


Understanding Grieving Family Members

When a loved one dies, and a family member was outgoing, the person may withdraw. We know this is not their normal behavior and as a result of the death and grief, they are experiencing something new, what they had known prior to the death, is not working for them. It is not unusual to see someone’s behavior change for example, is the person tender hearted and show lots of emotions, or more stoic? Knowledge is power. Think about each person in the family:

  • Jot down a few adjectives that describe them and how they tend to be in different situations
  • How have I specifically seen them to be in their grief?


When we have knowledge and understanding about family members and how they approach problems/challenges in their lives, then we can better nurture that person. Just as we have different grieving styles, we also have diverse ways of being that fill our lives, diverse ways of experiencing healing, hope, renewal and strength.  One way to nurture, is to say to the person, “I’m glad that you are in the world.”


Validate Feelings

Validating feelings is another way of creating understanding. This does not mean you agree or disagree with the feeling, it simply implies that you have heard what the (child/teen/adult) is feeling. Sometimes, more than anything else, we simply want someone to acknowledge that we have been heard.

  1. Validate your child’s/teen’s/adult’s feelings
    1. It is a simple thing to do to nurture a child when we see them acting in particular ways. Consider a child who is in the pool shouting, “Mom, mom, look at me!” Avoid passing judgement and instead of it, consider saying: “That was a great, the best dive I’ve ever seen!”   Or “I saw that, I see you! That must be fun!”  
    2. When it comes to their grief, if you have a Child/Teen/Adult that withdraws now, but used to be more outgoing, VALIDATE THEM BY SAYING:
      1. I’ve noticed that since this happened, you are spending a lot more time doing this(name what they are doing).”
      2. “Since this happened, I am spending a lot more time doing these things(name the behavior)”
  • Parent:
    1. Avoid judgment statements as: “I am really worried you’re spending so much time alone in your room.”
    2. Do say this Validating statement: “I noticed you’re spending a lot more time alone in your room.”
    3. This is VALIDATION, acknowledging their feelings. Say to them, “This has been my experience, and I noticed this with you, and maybe there are some things I haven’t noticed(leave space for silence)”


Helpful Tools For Conversations

Some other important tools when having these conversations with your family, especially when we are grieving:

  1. Keep your Voice Level down
  2. Be Honest (remember children do not need “all the “details.” Use language they can understand)
  3. Promote Mutual Respect
  4. Demonstrate Healthy Problem Solving (there are number of models on the internet). Basic steps include:
    1. Listen, listen fully, validate their feelings about it, then say, “Why don’t we think through what the next step for you is?” Most Models follow this process:
      1. Identify the problem
      2. Consider your actions around the problem
    2. Follow through logically, what might be the conclusion of acting or responding in certain ways and try/talk/play that out. This can also be done as a game and in the end ask: “What might be the best way to go, the best way to respond to the problem?”
  5. Encourage Your Child’s/Teen’s/Adult’s Talents and Celebrate their Successes
  6. Do not Expect Perfection in Your Child or Yourself
  7. Love Them Unconditionally



At least one time per week say to your Child/Teen/Partner:

“I’m so glad that you are my (child/teen/partner), and I’m so glad that you are in the world.”








For more support, visit our Grief and Healing page.

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