Children experience loss and grief in many different circumstances. The sadness they feel, how the absence of a parent or loved one from their lives affects them, may be experienced in many different ways over time. These resources are particularly relevant for service providers or those working or studying in areas related to the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents. They bring together a range of information on how children may experience grief at different ages and stages, and what can be done to help them.
How to Help Children Deal with Grief & Loss?
Helping children deal with loss, whether it be as a result of normal transitions like adjusting to a move or a new baby in the family, or more serious losses, like a parent leaving for war, job loss, serious illness or death in the family – even when losses are the result catastrophic experiences, like sexual abuse, a flood, fire, or terrorism, for example – what children need most from us is for us to teach them basic lessons of the heart. And in order to do this we must examine our minds and hearts, reflecting on our own experiences of loss and our commitment to paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that get stirred up when we do.
However, our first responsibility as counsellors is to have our own emotional houses in order. If we do, then we’ll be attentive and creative in our responses to children. If we don’t, we’ll be vulnerable to either being numb to their pain, trying to block them from showing it to us, or over-identifying with them and losing a sense of appropriate boundaries. We can’t take away the pain of another, even that of a child, but our sense of helplessness need not restrain us from reaching out to her. Never underestimate the power of love. There are basic commonalities in the mourning process regardless of the type or severity of the loss, and viewing emotional moments as opportunities for connection and teaching helps us to communicate our caring, while we listen to, validate, and empathize with a child’s feelings. For extensive help. Here are some important guidelines to consider:
– A child should be told immediately when someone in the family has died in order to prevent her hearing it from someone else, and use a normal voice, not a hushed whisper. Whispering could give kids a spooky feeling.
– Someone close to the child should tell her, preferably in familiar surroundings that give her security.
– Give her as honest an explanation as possible within her limits of understanding.
– Avoid euphemisms (like lost or asleep). Young children interpret things literally.
– Recognize that repeated questions, either at the time you inform her or in the weeks and months afterwards, are not as much for factual information about the death as they are for reassurance that the story hasn’t changed.
– Predict for the child that she may feel sad and even have strange or different feelings for a while, and that you might even cry together.
– Tell the child what to expect of the activities of the funeral and grief in general. Children should be allowed to attend a wake or funeral if they want to, but not forced to do so, and never forced to do anything like kiss the cheek of a corpse.
– Give affection and security. Assure her that she’s part of the family and you’ll all get through this together.
– Look for ways to help her express emotions both verbally and nonverbally, like through art and play.
– Watch out for her casual connection of her personal wishes or actions to the death of her loved one. (Ex: wishing someone were dead or would disappear)
– Remember that no two children will react exactly the same way. Example: The family pet of two of my granddaughters died while the children were at school. When the girls (ages 5 and 3 ½) came home, the family talked and cried, and comforted each other, and then the girls went to their rooms to take their naps. After nap time, the 5 year old was still weepy and wanted to carry a photo of him around with her. In contrast, the 3 ½ year old wasn’t crying. She got out of bed, walked over to her mother, said “I’m fine with it now, Mommy,” and shrugged. “You and Daddy are still here.”
– A child may not be able to remember a loved one in their absence. Photos do help, and this is so important, also in relation to the death of a relationship, like a divorce. Kids need pictures of Dad and Mom around their homes and their grandparents’ homes.
– Realize that the child may be expressing feelings not only about the actual death itself, but also about the changes in members of the family after the death.
– If the death is the result of a suicide define it in simple and direct language that eliminates judgment, such as “when someone chooses to make their body stop working.”
– Re-tell good memories.
In conclusion, a child who is dealing with loss has many of the same feelings and needs that we do, but because he/she is a child he/she has far fewer resources and abilities to cope with the feelings than we have. It’s up to us to provide them for her. And there is no shame in needing help with that.
Do you have pasion for helping children and adolescent, You can register at The Institute of Counsleing in Nigeria to get certified HERE