Our Bereavement Department is in full swing organizing the next Children’s Art Therapy program in July, the Teen Grief Camp in September and a seminar on Children’s Grief Responses. What better time than to write about children and grief?
Helping children who have experienced a loss can be done, but you may have to look at it as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. If you have read my previous entry on variables in grief, you have an idea of what I’m talking about already. In brief, a child can respond to a loss in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons. Those are the puzzle pieces that you need to put together to figure out what’s going on because the child may not tell you, or can’t because they may not understand the reasons themselves.
Some of the things to look for are:
How old is the child? The stage in their development will help give you an idea of how they perceive death. For example, children age 2 to 6 years may not understand the finality of death. They may think their loved one will come back after they are done being dead. Children age 7 to 10 years begin to understand death’s finality, but view death as something that happens to other people, not to them. They may also have an intense curiosity about death, the funeral, the burial and cremation. Children age 11 and older not only understand death’s finality, but their own mortality, and the fact that death can occur for many different reasons, not just because someone was “old.”
What kind of relationship did the child have with the deceased? They may respond differently to the loss of parent, than they would for the loss of a sibling, grandparent or friend.
What role did the deceased have in the child’s life? Were they a protector, provider, friend, teacher, or confidante?
How much information did the child have about the death? Was the child told, in an age appropriate manner, about the death and the funeral? If it was a long-term illness, was the child a part of the discussions and decision making process or were they not told in an effort to protect them.
If you have a child and you need to tell them a loved one has died, don’t worry – just follow these simple steps.
- Explain what happened, as truthfully as possible, in an age appropriate manner.
- Answer their questions, again as truthfully as possible, in an age appropriate manner. If you do not provide the information, their imaginations will supply the information for them, and it is often worse than the truth. They will ask the same questions over and over again, especially if they are younger. Please be patient with them and answer the questions as many times as they ask.
- Include them in the arrangements. Let them go to theviewing/funeral/memorial service, if they express a desire to do so. Explain to them, in an age appropriate manner, what they can expect so they will be prepared.
- Be a role model in grief to your child. Don’t be afraid to cry in front of them. You need to feel to heal and they do too. If you try not to cry in front of them, in an effort to protect them, the message they get is that it is not ok to cry. They will hold their grief in and it will eventually come out in negative ways (aggression, anger, depression, isolation).
- Involve them in conversations about the loved one and involve them in any activity that will memorialize the loved one (memorial garden, scrapbooking, journaling, drawing).
- If you are feeling overwhelmed, call a professional for help. It may be that your grief needs are so great, that you don’t have enough energy to tend to your child’s grief needs. That is normal and perfectly ok. This is the time to call a grief counselor to get the extra support that you and your family may need during the grieving process.
If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-882-1117.
Also, if would like more information about our Children’s Art Therapy program or Camp Connections Teen Grief Camp, please ask for a brochure.