GRIEF & LOSS
What can adults say to a child following the death of a beloved family member or friend?? Children often ask probing or painful questions. For a grieving adult, it may seem daunting to have to explain death to a child, especially when there are no simple answers. The following guidelines hope to make this process easier.
It is okay to say you don't know the answer to a child's question. You can even say, "No one knows for sure, but this is what I think..."
Consider a child's age and ability to understand complex ideas. Many experts believe children do not have a mature understanding of dealth until about eight or nine. Younger children may think that being dead is temporary, and that the dead person will return in the future.
Use precise terms when talking about death. People typically refer to "losing" a loved one. Children may interpret this literally and assume that the person will eventually be found. You should also explain that being dead means that the body has stopped working and that it cannot be fixed. It no longer feels cold or gets hungry. The good side of this is that a dead body does not feel any more pain or hurt.
If the child asks whether you will die, respond that everybody dies someday, but that you hope to live to do things with the family for a long, long time.
Remember that children cannot tolerate long periods of sadness. This means that they may want to play and participate in their usual activities. This is okay. It doesn't mean they didn't love the person who died, nor does it mena that they are being disrespectful. It is okay to permit or encourage children to have fun like they did before the death.
Changes in the child's behavior or patterns might be signs that the child is experiencing problems associated with the death. In these instances, it's appropriate to obtain advice from a specialist in child bereavement counseling.
Many school-age children benefit by participating in bereavement groups with other children who have suffered losses. Children hate to be different from their peers. In a group, they discover that they are not alone.
Although you may not know what to say, don't avoid the bereaved child. Tell them that you love them and, although you may be sad or crying, you will always love and take care of them. It is okay to express your own grief. You will find the strength to carry out these suggestions, and you and the child you care about will feel better as a result.
The following links can provide further information:
Brief fact sheet developed by the University of Cincinnati Psychological Services Center and the Office of Student Affairs and Services.
Two page excerpt from Disruption, Disaster, and Death: Helping Students Deal with Crises.
"Experience Called Grief" powerpoint presentation developed by Gary Smith, M.Ed. and shared by American School Counselors Association.
Helping your child deal with death
Fact sheet developed by the National Association of School Psychologists in 2003. Provides a description of normal reactions for children to a loss, broken down by elementary, middle and secondary students.
Hospice provides a very thorough overview of developmental reactions to death, talking about difficult topics and avoiding pitfalls in diffiicult discussions.
Home Nursing Agency Healing Patch
provides peer support for children and their families who have suffered the loss of a loved one, such as a parent, sibling, grandparent or close family member. The support group is located in Cambria and Blair counties, but is open to anyone interested in taking part.Meetings are held once every 2 weeks for a two-hour block. Services are provided free of cost. Those interested should contact the Home Nursing Agency by calling 1.800.445.6262
Some brief do's and don'ts for helping your child cope with loss.
Be open to the expression of all feelings. If your child is expressing a strong emotion in an acceptable way,
teach them how to better express themselves;
Talk about your family values and beliefs about death;
Give them extra time & attention;
Use correct words like “died.” Other words like "passed away" and "went to sleep" can cause fear and confusion for children;
Maintain their daily routine, but allow for grieving time;
Listen to their fears & concerns. Reassure them when you can;
Allow them to tell and retell their experience, even if you've heard it 100 times;
Encourage time to play, children learn and cope best through play;
Continue to set and reinforce appropriate limits;
Remind them of their own good qualities;
Offer consistent reassurance, support, & hope;
Allow time for remembering.
Minimize their pain;
Stifle their feelings;
Avoid talking about it because it makes you feel uncomfortable;
Assume you know what they are feeling and experiencing. Always ask;
Be upset if their behavior regresses - this is a normal reaction for children;
Expect their grades to be the same;
Feel like you have to ‘fix’ them. You can't fix grief and you can't make a loss go away. Even when you wish you could;
Hurry them through their feelings;
Be afraid to admit “you don’t know," sometimes you just don't.
Tell them, or expect them, to get over it;
Encourage them not to think about it. Creat a plan for what they can do when they are unable to get the loss out of their mind.