I’ve been reading about children and grief in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Grief and Grieving
. For many children bereavement is a subject that has been treated with silence. This has led to years of pain. Kubler-Ross reminds us that “Children are old enough to grieve if they are old enough to love; they are the ‘forgotten grievers.’ (p. 257)” Here are ten points for children and grief that I developed out of the reading:
1. Initiation on-going conversations. Some family members do not want to cause more pain for a child, so they assume that if a child isn’t asking about the deceased they shouldn’t initiate the conversation. Often a child is silent because they don’t want to make the parent or other adult sad. Children learn by example.
2. Let them know mixed emotions are okay. Sometimes children need to be told that it is okay to be sad or angry. Children, as all human-beings, will respond to loss in the various stages or symptoms of grief.
3. Use clear language. Language such as “mommy’s gone to heaven” or “grandma’s passed away” can add confusion, especially to young children who tend to see death as temporary.
4. Be available to answer questions. Even clear communication will be followed up with many questions for children who are unfamiliar with death. A child can often think that he or she is somehow responsible for the death, providing open communication can help clear up their concerns.
5. Suggest creative self-expression. Many children have been helped by being able to draw their story of loss. Consider molding clay, building blocks, and paints as invaluable tools to help children express their emotions.
6. Stability is helpful. In the midst of a season when so much feels abnormal, it is helpful if many of the simple routines can stay in place.
7. Reaction to grief is normal. Remember that reactions to grief are normal—grades may fall, children may loose interest in sports or hobbies they once enjoyed. Keep listening and being available, but do no show anxiety about their normal reactions to grief.
8. Different children react differently. Just like adults, in bereavement children respond in a way that is unique to their situation and personality. Some children will grieve in small doses as they develop and grow.
9. Consider children’s bereavement groups. These groups provide understanding peers and professionals who can sympathize and meet the child where he or she is on the grief journey.
10. Relive the memories. Sharing favorite stories about the deceased loved one is an excellent way to help children know that it is okay to laugh and enjoy memories. Older children may enjoy creating a memory book. For younger children, write up their favorite stories for them to have in the years to come.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross fills her chapter with both beautiful and sad illustrations of how children have experienced grief. She ends with this challenge, “We spend so much time teaching our children about life, why not do the same with death? (273)”
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