Helping Children and Teens with Grief – Prince Harry Opens Up
My son is now the age Prince Harry was when he lost his mother, Princess Diana Spencer, in a car crash in a Paris tunnel on Aug. 31, 1997. Prince Harry was 12 years old, my son was only 3 years old when his father died suddenly of a rare disease.
I look on at Prince Harry and William – and at my own two younger boys – and hope that despite my sons’ setbacks and grief in life that they will end up as charitable, kind and gracious human beings. Our society tends to sweep emotions such as grief and pain – under the carpet. Other more palatable emotions such as “happiness”, “joy” and “wealth” are sought after and celebrated. Type those keywords into google and they rank far higher than “grief” and “pain”. Blogs dedicated to happiness have gone viral. I have to say, I’m a fan of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project – but I’m left to wonder if the “Grief Project” would conjure as many fans and hits on google. We simply are not in pursuit of the formula that helps us to overcome grief and loss.
Everyone wants the happy ending – no one wants to walk the long, rocky road paved with thorns that ultimately brings true happiness and peace. I am heartened when these conversations come to the fore, and we have an opportunity to discuss them and truly encourage others to open up about their grief and pain.
Prince Harry revealed in an interview to the Daily Telegraph that he spent much of the following two decades after his mother’s death — through the conspiracy theories, endless investigations and Royal Family turmoil — remaining mostly silent.
He went to war in Afghanistan and watched his older brother marry. Then in his late 20s, Harry crumbled. At royal engagements, Harry found himself overcome by a “flight or fight” sensation. The prince felt angry, he told the Telegraph, as if he were “on the verge of punching someone.” But he didn’t understand what was causing the eruptions.
“I just couldn’t put my finger on it,” Harry told the Telegraph. “I just didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
It wasn’t until he began speaking with friends and family, then a therapist, that Harry realized it was the unattended, unresolved grief of losing his mother so young that was possibly crippling him.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.”
The interview, published April 16, was with the Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon, who after her own struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder began a podcast called “Mad World: Why it’s totally normal to feel weird.” The purpose of the podcast is to have unvarnished conversations about depression, anxiety and mental health.
Harry, alongside his brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, founded a mental health charity called Heads Together in May 2016. Heads Together is a mental health campaign led by The Royal Foundation in partnership with YoungMinds and seven other charities.
It aims to challenge mental health stigma and change how it is perceived. The trio have been part of the campaign to work against the negative attitudes to talking about mental health. They commissioned ten films of celebrities talking about their problems and the times when talking about it made a huge difference.
Here are some quick tips to help kids and teens with their grief:
- For kids and teens – it is essential that we open up the conversation and keep those channels open for as long as it takes.
- Momentos, keepsakes, birthdays and anniversaries should be remembered and talked about even if makes some of us uncomfortable.
- Allow kids and teens to feel the full extent of their emotions – if they need to talk to a professional, this should be sought earlier rather than later.
- Other resources like books, movies are especially helpful for those times where a child is struggling to put emotions into words but can’t. A good book can help the child to realize that these emotions are normal and that they aren’t alone.
- Physical activity for kids and teens is also extremely helpful. Team sports help to build confidence, engender team work and help keep the child stay physically active while burning off steam.
- Solid healthy meals full of nutritious fruits and vegetables are also crucial for children still growing and developing.
- If your child lost a parent – seek out other positive role models that can play a mentorship role in your child’s life.
If you know a family coping with grief and loss, offer to be a listening ear. If you have coped with tragedy and have tips to offer – feel free to leave them in the comments section below.