Helping Children Deal with Grief

When someone close to us passes away, it is always a very sad and difficult thing to go through. As adults, we are fortunate to have lived long enough to be able to grasp some of the fundamental ideals about death and dying, and are able to cope with the experiences in most cases. We understand that crying is part of grieving and we realize that there are many avenues for the prospect of healing. For children, the loss of someone in their lives can be a very scary and confusing experience. For many, it will be the first time they have ever experienced such a grown up emotion, one that they will have no idea how to cope with. There are many things that you can do as a parent or adult to help small children understand death and dealing with what they are feeling.

First of all, you must always take into consideration the age of your child. Perhaps he is far too young to comprehend much of what is going on around him. Be certain that when you talk about things that you are using language that he can understand. Use small words that are familiar.

Communication is the biggest key we can integrate. Talk with your child. Remember to consider when and where these discussions are appropriate. When it is a good time, gently talk to your child about the deceased loved one. Start with memories of good times shared with the person that your child has lost. Recall a happy memory you, yourself, had with the individual and then ask your child to think of a happy memory that she has. If your child remains quiet, gently help her recall a memory. “I remember when I was your age, Grandpa Sam used to take me fishing all the time. Do you remember when Grandpa Sam took you fishing down at the pond?” Help your child talk about one memory at a time, putting emphasis on the good things. For example, in our fishing scenario, have your child talk about how many fish they caught, or how much fun they had laughing on the banks of the pond.

Remembering the memories is one of the best ways to begin the healing process. Of course, talking about the memories brings those good times back to life, but we don’t want to forget them all-together. Purchase a scrapbook for your child and as you recall memories, help your child paste pictures of the lost loved one in the book. Fill the pages with memorabilia from the life of the one your child misses. Perhaps he would like to write down things Aunt Betty used to say that made him laugh. Write down things such as the color of her eyes and hair, or try to describe the funny way she used to laugh.

If you child is not much of a talker, encourage her to draw pictures illustrating the way she feels. Ask her to draw you a picture of the place where she thinks Grandma lives now, and what she thinks it looks like.

Share the treasures with your child. Perhaps your child would like to have something that belonged to the lost loved one, such as an article of clothing or a favorite book. As adults, we often find comfort in having something that belonged to someone that we lost. Oftentimes, children are the same way but have trouble asking for what they would like to have because they feel like they are taking away from someone else. If you do offer an object up to your child and they refuse, that is okay too. Not every child will want a previously owned item, they may even be afraid of it.

Let your child be creative. I know one child who wanted to catch a butterfly and put it in a jar just long enough to talk to it. She talked to the butterfly for about ten minutes and then set it free, telling her mother that the butterfly was going to fly to heaven and tell Granny that fell off her bike, but she was going to be okay, that she was being a really good girl and that she missed her very much. I knew a little boy whose mother suggested that they write his daddy a letter. When the little boy asked how they would ever get the letter to heaven, his mom suggested they tie it to a balloon and set it free. That’s just what they did. Children are beautiful and resilient creatures. Never underestimate the power of creativity that they possess. Never tell them that their ideas are silly. Remember that this is their way of coping, and that is okay.

The best advice that one can give is to remember that children heal very differently than adults do. Respect what your child is feeling and respect the time that it takes for them to complete the grieving process. Always remember to guide your child ever so gently and do not push them. Grief at a young age is a very fragile emotion, one that these little ones are going to have to go through and learn how to cope with.

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