Ideas for Helping
Death brings significant changes to the life of a child. Minimizing additional changes is very helpful to bereaved children. As much as possible, regular routines should be maintained and major life changes should be avoided. Stability and routine help children adjust to the loss of a loved one.
One of the most important ways that parents and other adult caregivers can help grieving children is to care for themselves so that they are able to care for the children. It is normal for grieving parents to have a difficult time meeting the needs of others, and those are the times when caring friends and family members can be asked to step in and assist with children and other responsibilities. When grief causes sustained incapacitation, it might be time to seek professional assistance.
Explain in developmentally appropriate terms what has happened to cause the loved one to die. Attempts to "protect" children by telling partial truths only raises their anxiety. Answers questions honestly, and with direct, concrete language. For example, explain that the loved one has died instead of saying that s/he "passed away" or has "gone to sleep."
Children need help remembering their loved one, and this will be especially important as they grow up and lose the memories they have now. Keep a journal of their memories, make scrapbook pages about the things they did with their loved one, or videotape the children talking about the person who died. Keep photos of the person who died around the house, and speak of him/her often.
Share the Loss
It is appropriate and helpful for children to see the grief of adults. Sharing feelings of grief with children gives them permission to share their own feelings, and also provides an opportunity for adults to serve as role models for bereaved children.
Encourage (but don’t force) conversation
Children typically enjoy talking about the person who died, and it is important for adults to invite such conversations. Sometimes children will avoid mentioning the loved one because they are worried about causing sad feelings. Adults can help a child to feel more open about talking by explaining that the sad feelings have been caused by the death and not by talking about the loved one.
Set no Time Limits
Like adults, children never completely "get over" the death of a loved one. Further, children understand and respond to the loss of a loved one differently as they enter each new developmental phase of their lives. Therefore it is normal and appropriate for the grief of children to resurface periodically during their childhood and adolescence. In addition to the feelings associated with grief, children may also experience renewed interest in the death over their growing up years. Adults can assist children with their grief by maintaining an open, patient attitude and understanding that it is normal for children to revisit the death and their grief even years after the event.
Spiritual and/or religious beliefs can assist both children and adults with grief. If a faith community has been part of a child’s life, it may be very helpful to support and encourage this aspect of his/her life.
Many children benefit from the experience of a grief support group. These groups can reduce isolation and assist the child in knowing that s/he is not the only one that has experienced a loss. In addition, support groups can help educate children about grief as well as ways to cope with grief.
Give Permission to Live
Bereaved children need to know it is okay for them to go on with their lives. Adults can help children learn how to balance grief with all the other feelings in their lives. In addition, adults can help bereaved children by giving permission for children to have fun and be happy even though something very sad has happened.Next Article