No Child Should Ever Grieve Alone | Carly Woythaler-Runestad | TEDxLincoln
How to Help Your Children Grieve
When confronted with the loss of a loved one, children are often unable to comprehend the reality of the situation or are overwhelmed by the emotions that result from intense grief. Grieving is an unpredictable and widely varied process for everyone, especially young people. A child will look to those around them for cues, and their grieving process will be strongly affected by how you grieve. Be there for children during the periods of emotional turmoil, adjustment, and remembrance that are all vital parts of the grieving process.
Informing Your Child of a Death
Be honest and direct.Tell your child as soon as you get the chance to do so. Do not delay the news. Sit with your child in a quiet, familiar environment. Speak simply and directly. Specific details are unnecessary when breaking the news, and may distract your child from the reality of the situation.
- Be direct. Be explicit with the fact that someone has died. Do not use a euphemism for death, as children often take things literally and you may confuse or frighten them. Take care not to use words that might be misinterpreted by young children in particular.
- With younger children, it may be tempting to say something along the lines of, “They went to sleep and didn’t wake up.” A euphemism such as this will diminish the child’s ability to confront and cope with the reality of traumatic experiences.
- Say something like, “Grandpa’s sickness got worse and he died last night. I know we had been hoping he would recover, and we had fun visiting him in the hospital these last few days, but he’s not alive anymore.”
- Reassure them emotionally by telling them you love them and that you’re there for them. Give them a hug, hold their hand, or stroke their hair.
- With children who are young, make sure to dispel any worries that they had anything to do with the death. Know that these assumptions are actually quite common, as children tend to assume they cause the things that occur around them.
Listen to your child’s response.Allow a few minutes of silence if they do not immediately respond. Your child is likely thinking about what to say and may be very confused. They will likely struggle to come up with words.
- Ask your child if they have any questions. Sometimes a child will accept what you’ve told them and not need or want to know any specific details. Other times, children will have endless questions as they try to come to terms with what has occurred.
- Answer any questions honestly. Be straightforward with the words you use and the way you frame things. That said, Don’t include any information that might frighten or traumatize your child.
- For instance, if a loved one died in a motorcycle accident, say something like, “______ crashed on their motorcycle and died from the injuries.” Do not say anything too specific about injuries or accidents.
- The older the child, the greater their ability to understand the permanence of death. Default to clarity and honesty in all your conversations about death and loss that you have with a grieving child.
- Though older children may have more specific questions, and wonder more intensely about how, specifically, a death occurred, you need to balance honesty with a sensitivity towards the further trauma that specific details might induce.
- Let them know they can ask you questions or talk to you about what has happened whenever they want to.
Include your child in any funeral arrangements.This is vital to helping your child accept the loss of a loved one more fully. It is also an important way to make your child feel included in a series of events that will significantly affect their family. Aside from infants, this applies to children of all ages.
- Never prevent a child from participating in a funeral if they want to do so. This may directly lead to feelings of confusion and rejection. .
- Explain that funerals help people say goodbye to people who have died. Tell them that there will likely be people crying at the funeral, and that it’s entirely okay if they cry as well.
- Plan a specific roll for the child. (You can also ask the child what they would like to do.) Rehearse whatever roll the child will fulfill. For example, have the child place something of their choosing in the casket.
- If you are not able to do so, have a friend or family member stay with a small child during the service. They may want to leave or need to be held at some point.
- On the other hand, don’t force a child to participate or attend. Some children may simply not be ready for the emotional intensity of a funeral service.
- If a young child is uncomfortable with the idea of attending a funeral, offer some alternatives to help them achieve closure. Mention planting a tree or releasing balloons in memory of the lost loved one, or ask if they have any ideas.
Helping Your Child During the Grieving Process
Don’t be surprised by significant changes in a child’s behavior.Children will display intense feelings of grief unpredictably, likely over a long period of time. Make a point of ensuring that you or another family member is always around children that have just experienced a loss, and during likely times of emotional turmoil during their childhood.
- When speaking with your child, make sure they know that they are always able and welcome to show their emotions and talk about their feelings with you.
- Don’t be surprised by fits of anger. At various ages of development, anger is a common feature of children’s emotional processing.
- Especially if a child has lost someone integral to their previous experiences, children will often actively express their anger towards other members of their families.
- When a child is roughly 6-12, they may go through seemingly unprompted fits and tantrums, which may simply be the release of anger they are unable to process. While this certainly needs to be monitored and discussed, understand that their inexplicable anger may reflect deep sadness.
- Similarly, teenagers may respond to grief with periodic, even intentional lapses in healthy judgement. While they may be able to control tantrums, outbursts of misbehavior and knowingly inappropriate activities may be directly connected to their suffering.
- To diminish the negative effects of extreme emotional swings, spend as much time as possible with your child, especially when it seems they need support.
Allow the child to cry.Emotional release is the first stage of healing. Encourage them to express their feelings when you see them begin to become agitated. Don’t hesitate to touch or hold the child while they cry.
- Read a children’s book about death with them. While this might elicit some tears, it will also facilitate some potentially important conversations with the child.
- Ask a young child who has just finished crying is they’d like to draw or tell you a story. Children sometimes struggle to convey things they are struggling with verbally, but may be more capable of expressing themselves creatively.
Let them see you express emotions.Show the child that crying is perfectly normal and natural by allowing yourself to cry with them. Emotional pain is inevitable after a loss. Indicate that grieving is entirely appropriate by doing so yourself.
Continue to allow children to grieve throughout their childhood.At all ages, children need to express their grief, tell stories, and share their memories about the loved one they lost. Whatever their age when tragedy occurs, children will experience grief over the death of loved one throughout their childhood. Recognize and respect that intense periods of sadness may be frequent and long-lasting.
- Know that even when periods of intense sadness come less often, they will still come from time to time. Often, they will coincide with other emotionally intense parts of human life, particularly during times of transition, accomplishment, or celebration.
- Even infants will experience suffering on account of someone they lost when very young. Be sure to allow a child who lost someone while very young to talk about it as it comes up later in their life.
- Always allow someone who has experienced a loss to openly share their feelings about it, as this will normalize a process of working through their sadness and processing intense emotional scenarios as they arise.
- Know that it will get better. Though it’s far from everyone’s mind during periods of mourning, the experience of loss often contributes to personal growth. Children that suffer the loss of a love one often later report feeling more compassion towards other people, place greater value on personal relationships, and even develop a greater sense of appreciation for their own lives.
Get the child professional help.Since children who are grieving can sometimes be hard to predict, it can be challenging to be sure a child is emotionally healthy following a significant loss.
- If any of these signs develop, take the child to see a mental health professional:
- Extended depression, including loss of interest in events and activities the child used to enjoy.
- Withdrawal from friends.
- An inability to sleep or disinterest in eating.
- An sustained, irrational fear of being alone.
- Behaviour that is more characteristic of substantially younger children.
- Excessive imitation of the dead person.
- A sustained decline in academic performance of a blatant lack of effort.
- Repetitive declarations of a desire to join the dead person.
- Mental health professionals will know the best approach to handling grief at different ages. For all children, professional help will allow children to accept the reality of death and begin to grieve safely.
- Connect your child with other children of a similar age who are going through or have experienced the loss of a loved one. There are support groups for specific ages, often organized according to how a loved one was lost. Involving a child in a support group of children their own age will help them feel less lonely in their grief.
- If any of these signs develop, take the child to see a mental health professional:
Maintaining Mental Health While Grieving
Keep kids in their routine.Routine is comforting for all people, and especially children. The importance of grieving is matched by the necessity of recognizing that life goes on despite the death of a loved one.
- While the loss of a significant person in anyone’s life often leads to a sense of emptiness that may never fully go away, your life and the life of your child will continue. A period of grief will deeply affect the way your child is feeling for some time, but grief cannot be allowed to dominate a child’s life.
- If you are struggling with the weight of the grief you are experiencing, find a relative or friend that may be able to help keep your child’s normal routine. This may simply include having someone perform some daily task, such as bringing the child to a park or to school.
Reminisce with the child about the person they’ve lost.The loving thoughts and memories associated with a lost loved one should be cherished and maintained.
Take care of yourself.In order to be there for a grieving child and to set a good example of healthy grieving, you need to be able to cope with the loss you’re suffering from as well. Give yourself time to reflect and recover. Don’t rush the healing process for either yourself or your child.
- Live right. Sleep enough, eat a balanced diet, get some exercise. Get in the habit of maintaining your own routines.
- Reach out to friends and other family members for emotional support. Be honest with those that care about you. Tell them about your frustration, anger, and sadness about what has happened.
- Ask for help with everyday responsibilities, especially in terms of childcare, if you’re not able to keep up.
- Speak with a counselor or therapist is you’re experiencing persistent depression or melancholia. ·
- Join a group, either in person or online. There are helpful online communities that can help, particularly GriefNet.org.
- The better you are able to handle your own grief, which includes being honest to yourself and others about the pain you’re experiencing, the better a child who is close to you will be able to cope with grief as well.
QuestionMy son died and his sister has cut herself off from the family. She seems fine, but I am worried, what should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGive her time to grieve for him. No one can say how long the grieving process should take, everyone is different. Gradually start involving her back in the family affairs and keep reminding her that she is important to you and the family.Thanks!
QuestionI am the child, and my friend died. My parents haven't tried to comfort me at all. How can I comfort myself?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe best thing to do is to talk to your parents about how you feel. They may not realize how badly you're hurting on the inside. If they're not helping, or they don't really understand, try talking to your friends or friends of the deceased. They're also probably hurting, and would be happy to offer a shoulder to cry on.Thanks!
QuestionMy child's father died last year, and my child is so caught up in grief that he can't function and won't go to school. What should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThis is a very challenging and upsetting situation. If your child still refuses to go to school and is having trouble functioning, bring him to see a mental health professional or grief counselor who can help him grieve safely.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I tell a child that they are dying?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust tell them; it's better to be direct and honest than try to sugar coat it and be misleading or misunderstood.Thanks!
QuestionWill having my kids write a letter to the deceased person and burning it help them grieve?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWriting the letter could be cathartic, but I would not destroy that letter as it might be seen as another loss to your child. I would suggest holding it in a special safe place for years to come.Thanks!
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