Children provide an interesting perspective to essentially everything. Their fresh impressions and highly curious minds foster imagination and wonder. They are driven by pure emotion and instinct. These traits are part of what makes childhood such a formative time in our lives. Unfortunately, losing a loved one as a child is a harsh reality many people face. It can be hard to console children through grief, for their way of processing their emotions is much different than it is for adults. However, there are some key things you can do for the children in your life who may be grieving to help them grieve in a healthier way. Keep reading to learn more.
The best thing you can do for a child who is grieving is to be honest—in all regards. First, it’s important to be honest about death itself. Describing those who have died as being “gone,” “asleep,” or “taken” do not accurately describe what happened. Children are familiar with these terms and assume that those who are gone can come back, those who are asleep will wake up, and what’s been taken can be returned. Death is a permanent force and one that should be explained and defined to children. It’s also important to be honest about how their loved one died. Telling children how their loved one died can help them form rational conclusions about how death works, and they can have an outlet for any negative feelings they have. Just make sure these negative feelings are aimed toward a thing (such as an illness) and not a person (such as a doctor). Helping them understand the actual concept of death and what it means is the first step to helping them along their grief journey.
Next, it’s important that you are honest about how you feel. It’s a natural protective instinct to put on a brave face for children. This is okay. You want to be strong for children who are experiencing such a tragic loss. However, there is a way to be strong and brave while also being honest. Telling a child how you truly feel following the loss of a loved one can help them understand their own thoughts and feelings. Chances are you are likely feeling a combination of emotions—you may be sad, confused, or even angry. You can experience all of these emotions simultaneously while grieving, and it’s important that children realize they can experience several conflicting emotions as well. Instead of being a “rock” be a role model. Find ways to connect and communicate with the children in your life.
Be There for Them
Finally, continual conversation is crucial. Losing a loved one and journeying through the grief process is traumatic for anyone—let alone children who may not even fully be aware of what they’re feeling or how to express those feelings. Taking time to check on the children in your life and having conversations about their grief (in an age appropriate manner) can help them progress along their grief journey. Be ready to answer any questions they have and answer them honestly. It’s also important during these conversations to emphasize that you will be with them for help and encouragement. Many children will foster fears of abandonment and separation after losing a loved one. Reassuring children that they will be cared for can help soothe these fears, and will also ensure that their energy and thoughts are more appropriately dedicated toward healing and understanding their grief.
These tenants can be helpful guides to the grieving process, but also remember that grief is unique in every conceivable way. If you find yourself consoling a grieving child, make sure to keep this in mind and help them in whatever way is most appropriate—and don’t forget to take care of yourself as well! You can only help others work through grief if you yourself are also able to work through grief in a healthy way.
Children’s Grief Awareness Day is November 15th. The best way to show awareness on this day is to wear blue. More information can be found at https://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/cgad2/index.shtml.
Are you interested in joining a grief support group? Join us at one of our monthly meetings. Visit http://clecem.org/Information/Bereavement.aspx to learn more.
Post written by Katie Karpinski