How bereavement camps help grieving kids

Posted by Lauren Wozniak

How bereavement camps help grieving kids

“What can I do to help?”

That question often weighs on the minds of the parents or guardians of a grieving child.

Some children instinctually express their emotions through verbalization, art, music and play. Other children need guidance on how to express feelings of grief and loss.

“It is helpful to children when the adults in their lives provide opportunities to acknowledge the grief everyone is feeling,” The National Alliance for Grieving Children states. “It is also helpful when children can gather with peers grieving similar situations.”

Bereavement camp is a place where children can meet other kids who are facing grief, and are given the opportunity to bond and process loss with them.

A child learns that they are not alone in this experience and whatever they are feeling is okay. Just as adults can model grieving, kids can be role models for other children.

JourneyCare’s Camp Courage is a bereavement camp for children ages 6-13 that serves families in the Chicago area. This summer’s Camp Courage will be held from July 15-19 at YMCA Camp Duncan in Ingleside Illinois, to provide a safe space for kids to swim, rock climb and enjoy nature. The week-long camp incorporates reflection and honoring of loved ones through two special memorial services for the family members that have passed away.

Within small groups, music therapy and art therapy help the kids honorand process the loss of a loved one. Children and adolescents who attend Camp Courage work with trained staff and volunteers of JourneyCare to learn new ways to express their feelings. Drum circles, mask making and memory boxes are just a few of the activities children can engage in at Camp Courage to promote healthy healing and expression.

Bereavement camp allows a child to have normalcy in their life when they are going through a grim time.

Irene Searles McClatchey and Jane Wimmer state in Evaluating Bereavement Camps, “Children have a difficult time tolerating strong feelings for an extended time, and the opportunity to swim, hike, play ball, etc., gives these campers the message that it is all right to have fun and be children even if they have had the unfortunate experience of losing a person close to them.”

When a bereavement camp offers time to play, make art and listen to music the child learns to laugh and cry with kids and adults safely and expressively.

Children acquire coping skills throughout the camp. Some of the coping skills taught are how to express anger safely, how to remember their loved one who has died, how to find relaxation in a stressful time, and how to communicate to others what they are feeling.

According to the National Alliance for Grieving Children, “Grief is not a problem we are trying to fix for a child; it is an experience they are living.”

The goal of a bereavement camp is for the children leave at the end of the week feeling less alone, better equipped with materials to manage grief, and knowing that what they are going through is entirely normal.

For more information and to register for Camp Courage, visit journeycare.org/campcourage.

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