Grief and Kids : 5 things every grieving child wants their parent to know
The death of family member, friend or significant person in a child’s life is a terrible loss. Your child may have child lost someone to cancer over the course of time, or suddenly through a heart attack, car accident or suicide. However the loss happened, grief is a challenging time for children. What we know about grieving children is that big feelings come and go like waves. It can be challenging for parents and caregivers to know what to do and what to say to children who are clearly hurting.
Grief is normal
Grief is a normal process for children who have lost someone special to them. When children lose someonenwho has played a major role in their life it is normal for them to struggle. The absence of the person takes time to fully sink in and children often continue to miss the loved one for a while. Children don’t just “get over” a person’s death, but they do adjust to the new normal.
Children should know the truth.
Many parents and caregivers want to protect their children from the difficulties of that come with death. Often we avoid words like “dead” or “die.” Although it is hard to share the truth about how someone died, honest answers help build trust and provide understanding to children. Children are very smart and often will fill in information that they imagine with information they have learned. Often in our best attempt to shield children from pain we are encouraging unhelpful imaginations to run wild. Telling children the truth about death and dying is important and should be balanced with what is developmentally appropriate.
Children should be told what to expect.
Between funerals, wakes and burials, there are a lot of new experiences for children when someone dies. The decision for whether or not a child should attend a funeral is very specific to the development of the child. Attending a funeral can provide closure to some children yet may frighten and confuse others. These decisions are not ones the can be made easily or quickly and should be carefully considered.
Grieving children often feel alone.
Often adults who are well meaning avoid talking about the deceased person in fear that doing so will make the grief that a child has for a loved one worse. By doing this there is the risk of encouraging children not to talk about their loss or to think they shouldn’t show grief. It is helpful to children when grownups acknowledge the grief that everyone is feeling. When children don’t feel like they can talk about their grief that may wonder, “Am I handling this right?” “Is there something wrong with me because this is still bothering me?”
Every child grieves differently.
There is no set way that we know kids handle the loss of a loved one. What we do know is that the relationship a child has with the person who died matters. Just as their relationship was unique so is the way that a child will grieve. Some grieving children want to talk about the person who died. Other children actively avoid any and all reminders of the person. Children express grief differently.
Grief Counseling for children can help
Grief that doesn’t seem to get better with time may be sign that your child may benefit from outside assistance in dealing with the loss. For children whose grief is getting in the way of being successful at school, or every day life, therapy that focuses on making sense of the loss, or processing the grief may be needed.
Jeff LaPonsie LMSW
Jeff LaPonsie is a clinical social worker at Kalamazoo Child and Family Counseling, PLLC. He provides counseling to children and families in the Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, and South West Michigan area. He is passionate about helping challenging children and frustrated parents. Jeff has over seven years of experience working with at risk youth. His clinical expertise includes working with children with behavioral, anxiety, attachment and trauma related disorders.