How can grownups support grieving children?
Losing a loved one is difficult for anyone. For children, grief is experienced differently and every child grieves in his or her own way. As an adult, you serve as a role model to the children and teenagers in your life. By encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills through the grieving process and for the future.
Learn how you can help the children in your life through the grieving process with these helpful tips in mind:
- Get as much support for yourself as possible. The stronger you are, the more help you can be to your child.
- Allow others to step in to help the child cope when you are unable to.
- Give accurate information appropriate to the child’s developmental level. This requires good judgment and can be incredibly difficult when the death involves suicide, violence or the death of a child.
- Allow the child to express their feelings and show acceptance. Be a role model for the child by expressing your own feelings and sharing memories of the loved one.
- Show expressions of affection to the child as much as you did before the loss.
- Provide structure; try to keep the child in a routine. Set limits on acting out behavior, while showing acceptance of their feelings.
- Avoid any new losses (such as moving your home or getting rid of a pet) for as long as possible.
- Encourage the child to participate in rituals. Get someone to assist you with this if necessary. Encourage the child to attend part of the funeral, with the option to leave with another family member if it is too distressing. Also consider planting a memorial tree as a good ritual for the child.
- Give the child an object to remember the deceased by. This could be a possession, a photograph, a stone from the cemetery, etc.
- Encourage the child to create artwork or write to express their feelings and to help come to terms with the loss.
- If you have more than one child, make a point to periodically spend time alone with each child (e.g., driving to the store, going to the mall) to allow them to ask questions and express their feelings.
- Share your spirituality with your child, as appropriate to developmental level.
- Prior to major loss, use smaller losses such as the death of a pet or a neighbor to teach your child how to grieve.
Read up on childhood bereavement and get professional help if you think it may be needed.
JourneyCare offers Camp Courage, a free bereavement camp for children ages 6-13, that serves families in the Chicago area. 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. To register for Camp Courage, visit journeycare.org/campcourage.