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Grief is difficult to cope with at any age, but it can be particularly confusing for children and young people. While adults are always compelled to support children through the grieving process, they’re often unsure how to approach the issue of death.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places to seek advice and support. Your local church, religious organizations, and grief support groups can be invaluable when a child is experiencing grief. In addition to this, the following tools and techniques can help you to support a child as they’re grieving:
Understand how children grieve
Everyone grieves in different ways, including children. However, young people may not have the vocabulary to explain their feelings. If this is the first time a young person has lost someone close to them, they may be unfamiliar with their feelings or struggle to articulate their emotions.
Often, children express grief through their behavior. A child may appear to be fine one minute and then cry the next, for example. Alternatively, children may display periods of ‘bad behavior’, such as ‘tantrumming’ or getting angry.
Recognizing how a child is grieving can help you to establish how best to support them. The routine disciplinary methods you use, such as grounding kids, may not be the best approach at this time. Instead, understanding that a child’s behavior is often a response to grief can help you and them to understand their feelings and address them.
Don’t make death a taboo subject
Almost all children have some understanding of death, even if you’ve never spoken to them about it. Death is a common theme on TV and in books, so it’s unlikely that any school-aged child won’t have confronted the topic in some way.
In a bid to protect children, adults often refrain from talking about death in front of them. However, children pick up on changes in tone, and avoiding the subject may make them feel that death shouldn’t be talked about. As a result, children may refuse to open up or tell you how they’re feeling, even if it’s entirely appropriate for them to do so.
You can address this by talking about death in an age-appropriate way. Similarly, talking about the person who has died helps to ensure that children don’t feel uncomfortable sharing happy memories or asking questions.
Find unique ways to remember
If a child has special memories of a person that’s died, they may want to remember them in a unique way. Some children like to paint pictures or create crafts for the person that’s died, for example. Alternatively, cremation urns for children and babies ensure that the ashes of a loved one can be kept safe and displayed. Similarly, planting a tree or releasing balloons can be an effective way of remembering someone who has died.
Ultimately, there are no right and wrongs when it comes to mourning someone’s death. Asking children how they would like to remember someone will enable them to express their feelings, as well as their creativity. By giving them the opportunity to come up with remembrance ideas, you can ensure that they feel involved and included in the process.
Show your feelings
Bottling up your emotions can have negative consequences. Adults are often hesitant about expressing their emotions in front of children, particularly when they’re experiencing intense grief. Allowing children to see you crying or being upset after losing a loved one can help them to process their own grief.
Furthermore, expressing your feelings acknowledges that something sad has happened. When adults feel unable to be upset in front of children or avoid talking about the death of a loved one, they may try to ‘carry on as normal’ instead. For children, this can be confusing. By sharing your feelings, however, you’re showing that it’s okay to feel upset, sad, angry, and confused.
Make children feel safe
Losing a loved one can be a scary experience for a child. For many children, their first experience of death will when a pet passes away. Alternatively, the death of an older relative, such as a grandparent, might be the first time a child experiences grief. Understandably, this can lead to questions regarding the mortality of other people, such as parents or caregivers.
Your desire to reassure the child should be compatible with the truth, so don’t be tempted to promise that ‘nothing bad will ever happen’ or that ‘you’ll be around forever’. Being honest and explaining that everyone dies but reminding them that they will always be loved and cared for by the people close to them is often the best way to reassure children.
Carry on with routines
Although you won’t want to carry on completely normally in the immediate aftermath, keeping up with some family routines can be helpful. A child may feel able to return to school fairly quickly following the death of a relative, for example. If so, this should be encouraged.
Similarly, encouraging children to follow their usual routines, such as getting up when they normally would and going to bed at their usual time, can be a good way to retain some normalcy during a confusing time.
Remind kids is okay to have fun
When someone dies, people are understandably somber and upset for quite some time. In a child’s eyes, this may make it seem like it’s not okay to have fun, laugh, or enjoy themselves. Some kids may refuse play dates or avoid using their favorite toys because they don’t feel like they should have fun, for example. Remind kids that it’s important to play, have fun, and enjoy themselves. Children express themselves through play, so it can be an important part of the healing process.
Seeking Support for Children Who Are Grieving
Support from family and friends is invaluable when a child is grieving but reaching out for additional help can be extremely beneficial. Attending child-focused support groups or working with a grief counselor can help children to express their feelings after losing a loved one and to find ways to move on while remembering the person who has died.