Grieving with children

Grieving with children

I’ve done a fair bit of grief counselling over my time since internship until now and one thing has always struck me as a significant reflection after each such session: We are often so unprepared to deal with death, especially the first time around and even more so when it strikes without advanced warning.

This thing that is a part of our lives and the life of every other human being and living, breathing organism so often hits us so hard. Objectively speaking, it really shouldn’t seem as scary as it is, given that it as much a part of our cycle as is first being born, facing puberty, adulthood, mid-life and eventually old age. Then again, don’t each of those stages come with their own traumatic consequences, sometimes hitting harder than grief ever will?

So, how do people cope more peacefully or less chaotically in any traumatic event? Resilience and preparedness are the two main factors that play a role. How much did you know about what happened and how “tough” were you to it? If you look at people who have endured the loss of a close loved one, often their grief process is less severe the second time around. This is because they have been through this and have some of the requisite coping skills from before. So, how do we prepare or help those we care for most, with one of the hardest matters they’ll ever face?

So much depends on their age and their ability to conceptualise the loss they are faced with, as such there is not necessarily a “one size fits all” approach, although there are a few pointers listed below that may help along the way:

For children of any age, it’s worth focussing on the following:

  • Pay attention to them, remind them of their importance, and validate their opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Be patient and open minded.  Allow them to grieve in their own way, as this is their own unique process.
  • Have time to sit with them, listen and answer their questions, as there will be many.
  • Reassure them the circumstances of to the death were extreme and it is unlikely other adults in their lives will die any time soon (unless this is untrue).
  • Let them know that a range of different emotions are normal and that they’re likely to feel all sorts of things like anger and confusion.
  • Validate their feelings and do not minimise them with expressions like “It’ll all be over soon”.
  • Check in with other adults involved in their life to make sure they are doing as ok as can be expected, or that they are not showing more extreme signs of grief away from the home. Stay in touch with school, mentors, coaches etc.

For those who find it still difficult to discuss loss with their children, here’s a short list of books that can help with the process, depending on the type of loss encountered.

  • Krasny-Brown, L. and M. Brown: When Dinosaurs Die
  • Thomas, P.: I Miss You: A first look at death
  • Clifton, L.: Everett Anderson’s Goodbye
  • Holmes, M.: Molly’s Mom Died and Sam’s Dad Died
  • Vigna, J.: Saying Goodbye to Daddy
  • Old, W.: Stacy Had a Little Sister
  • Cohen, J.: I Had a Friend Named Peter
  • Coleman, P.: Where the Balloons Go
  • DePaola, T.: Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs
  • Thomas, J.: Saying Goodbye to Grandma

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