Navigating Childhood Grief and Anxiety: My Family’s Journey


I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Be kind to others; you never know what someone else is going through.” I’ve always believed in this statement, but it’s never been as pertinent to me as it has for the last year.

During this time, I’ve been helping my daughter through childhood grief and anxiety; or at least I’ve been trying to.

I’ve never felt more exhausted or felt as defeated in my life.

Older woman hugging a young boy. Both are smiling and happy.

My daughter was always a very happy child; an eternal optimist who was excited and joyful about everything. My girl had a constant aura of positive energy that made it impossible not to smile. My husband and I always joked that we didn’t know where she came from. My husband tends to be a “glass half empty” introvert, whereas I am a mix of introvert and extrovert and optimist and pessimist. Our daughter’s personality is unlike anyone in our family and we appreciate and value her gift for that reason.

As a year, 2022 was not kind to my family. My husband and I lost all three of our remaining grandparents. My grandmother was the third. She passed right before Thanksgiving, 2022 and I still can’t think about her without tearing up. 

Her whole life revolved around her large family and her faith. I always loved and admired her. She made the best spaghetti sauce and meatballs. Christmas was her favorite holiday and she prepared for it all year long; she insisted on getting everyone in the family gifts even when her grandchildren were older and would’ve been entirely okay with her not spending the little money she had on us.

She gave so much to her family and her community and expected nothing in return. She never missed a birthday and she was present at every big life event, even though she lived a two-hour drive away from me. I will always carry her in my heart.

My children knew her. What a gift that is; so many children do not know their great-grandparents long enough to remember them! 

While we didn’t see her much during her last few years due to the pandemic, she made a major imprint on my children’s hearts. My kids loved her spaghetti sauce and meatballs just as I always did. They, too, received birthday cards from her every year. She used to sneak them treats when I wasn’t looking when we visited. She made them feel loved no matter how far apart we were.

By the end, her health was in decline and she accepted that her time remaining on earth was limited. She knew she’d achieved a life well lived and was at peace with death. Still, her death has been the hardest thing I think I’ve ever experienced.

Her death was just as wrenching for my kids. I assumed my older child would be more greatly affected, but it was my happy-go-lucky daughter who was completely devastated. I was not prepared to help her navigate her childhood grief and anxiety, but I had no choice. I couldn’t let my daughter suffer alone.

Older woman and toddler transplanting flowers together outdoors.

My grandmother’s death seemed to break my optimistic, energetic child, at least on the inside. 

It wasn’t apparent to strangers, but my child was struggling. I’m not sure she’d ever felt true sadness before, and she didn’t know how to identify it or what to do with it. This created massive amounts of anxiety that came to light in many ugly forms, especially in the evenings. 

  • My daughter started having night terrors, sometimes for 3-4 hours each night. She procrastinated getting ready for bed because she didn’t want to have bad dreams. She would tantrum and argue with me over anything and refused to be upstairs in her bedroom alone.
  • She had never been a perfectionist, but suddenly small mistakes were enough to ruin her entire day or cause a massive explosion. Even when writing a letter to Santa, I had to hand her my laptop to type it because she ripped up her first four drafts because her “handwriting wasn’t good enough” (in her opinion).
  • Right before I would send her to get ready for bed, she’d often express that she hated herself. I’d reply that I didn’t think she truly did, but that I think she hated the feelings she was having. I don’t think my daughter could separate who she was from how she felt.

I was heartbroken. My grief was a heavy load, and I had the added layer of trying to save my child from the dark emotions of her own childhood grief and anxiety. 

I felt upset and angry all the time and all I could do was wonder how this could have happened.

I had a lot of guilt; I mean, I knew my daughter’s feelings were not my fault, but as parents, aren’t we always feeling guilty about things we cannot control?

Desperate to get help for my daughter’s childhood grief and anxiety, I did a few things that I’d recommend to any parent in my shoes:

1. I contacted my child’s classroom teacher, the school nurse, and the guidance counselor.

Thankfully, they are all very responsive and have been very supportive. My daughter’s teachers (both last year and this year) have appreciated being in the loop even though she has never demonstrated the meltdowns we saw at home at school. In the thick of her night terrors, her teacher offered to help in any way possible, and we made a plan so that if my child came into school exhausted after a night of night terrors, she would be allowed to take a rest break.

I am thankful my daughter has a terrific guidance counselor. After I emailed him, he called me in the evening from home so he could fit my daughter into his schedule right away and offer an outlet for her to talk about whatever she needed to while I sought out more help.

2. I talked to my daughter’s pediatrician and accessed their mental health services

This was a little harder to do quickly. One thing I really love about my pediatrician’s office is that they have a psychology ‘department,’ of sorts. I have learned that this is thankfully becoming more common among pediatricians’ practices. 

A psychologist who coordinates the program contacted me after I’d spoken with my daughter’s pediatrician. She did an intake interview by phone with me and put me in touch with another staff member with whom I had two telehealth consults so I could learn strategies and receive resources about how to best interact with and help my child. 

While waitlists were long for 1:1 therapy, our pediatrician’s psychology branch provides some small group therapy services. My daughter was able to attend a group session. During this time, she learned to define her anxiety and worked on coping strategies. She expressed that this helped her and she was sad to see it end.

3. I rode it out and kept seeking therapy options for my daughter.

With grief, time often serves to heal us.

Now, over a year after Grandma’s passing, my daughter and I are both in a better space. Bedtime is getting easier, night terrors are few and far between, and I’m able to address my child’s needs better because my own feelings of grief aren’t as raw. 

Old woman reading a cardboard picture book to a very young child.

I also finally found a therapist for my daughter and she started services over the summer. I had to go beyond the pediatrician’s office, but I was successful! At the recommendation of my daughter’s guidance counselor, I searched This is a great resource; you can search for available therapists in your area just by typing in your zip code. There are also several filters you can use to help you find therapists that take particular insurances, figure out which ones specialize in the area or age group that fits your needs, and other factors. Each therapist who has a profile on this site generally has a photo, their credentials and contact information, and a short paragraph about them and their therapy approaches or more information about the services they provide.

I suggest if you use this site, that you find 2-3 (or more) possible therapists and then contact them all; I did this and only 1 of the 3 had openings for my daughter and met my financial criteria.

It’s not perfect; we still have some rough nights, but my daughter is getting more sleep and I’m able to remind her to use some strategies she learned in therapy. 

If you’re going through something like this, I recommend setting some goals for yourself. It took months to get to the point where I felt that I could do this. Maybe I should’ve done it sooner, but it was really hard to think about myself with everything going on with my daughter. However, I realized I cannot support my child if I don’t take care of myself.

My self-care goals are as follows:

Rest when I can and try not to feel guilty I’m not doing other things.

There were nights when I was up for 2-3 hours in the middle of the night when my daughter’s night terrors were bad. On the days when I chose a nap over folding laundry, I did it without guilt.

Talk to people who support me.

For now, I often turn to my small group of good friends, but I have considered finding a therapist for myself.

Keep accessing the resources the psychologists we’ve worked with sent me.

I keep reminding myself that just because things are a bit better than they used to be, that doesn’t mean the podcasts and reading I was given still can’t help. Two podcasts that were recommended for me were: Good Inside with Dr. Becky and Flusterclux with Lynn Lyons.

I need to take the time to learn my own strategies for coping with grief and loss too.

Increase my patience.

This includes patience with myself and patience with my family. We have come a long way, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to be able to listen while keeping my emotions in check. I need to show a good example of how to cope with difficult situations.

This journey isn’t over, because teaching my children to take care of themselves and get the help they need when things like this happen is going to be a big part of my job as a parent. I don’t always know the right thing to do, but I will do what I think is best and then seek help.

Have you ever had to help your child through feelings of grief and anxiety? What tips do you have for me and other parents going through the same?

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Navigating Childhood Grief and Anxiety: My Family's Journey

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