Ways we can help grieving children
Be truthful. Children have a conscious or unconscious knowing if they are not told the truth. Then they suffer another loss of the trust of the adults around them,
Keep explanations simple. More is not always better. Children are often content with a simple answer, knowing they can come back if they have more questions.
Share the facts. In simple and concrete language, share the facts with children about what happened to their person in age-appropriate ways.
Remind children it was not their fault. Too often children are filled with magical thinking and can too easily find a reason why they caused their person to die.
Define death. Death is when the body stops working. Usually people die when they are very, very old, or very, very sick, or their bodies are so injured that the doctors or nurses can’t make their bodies work any more.
Allow children to be recognized mourners. Invite and prepare children to be part of the family grief process. They can read a poem at the memorial, place a picture in Grandfather’s coffin, or plant a flower for their dog Scruffy.
Remember children grieve differently. Boys and girls grieve differently than adults. What may appear to be a frivolous play activity may actually be a very profound way youngsters are processing their grief.
Treat every child and their grief as unique. Children grieve as differently as they are individuals. Some might cry and share her feelings,. Others may appear not to feel anything at all.
Include children in family illness. A sick family member that may be terminally ill is a challenge for all family members. Including children allows them to understand what is going on, participate in helping, and be prepared for what happens in the future.
Honor a child’s belief system. Children begin to formulate their own spiritual belief system at a young age. Feeling their person is with them, or with God can be important in their healing process. Respecting their experience is essential.
Prepare children for funerals and memorials. Children should be prepared and invited to these events, but never forced. They should be invited to ask questions about the service, and see how the community comes together to honor a life and say goodbye.
Adapted from Goldman, Great Answers to Difficult Questions About Death: What Children Need to Know, 2008, p. 105-106.
Common feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of the grieving child
- Child retells events of the deceased’s death and funeral.
- Child dreams of the deceased.
- Child idolizes or imitates behaviors of the deceased.
- Child feels the deceased is with him or her in some way.
- Child speaks of his or her loved one in the present.
- Child rejects old friends and seeks new friends with a similar loss.
- Child wants to call home during the school day.
- Child can’t concentrate on homework or class work.
- Child bursts into tears in the middle of class.
- Child seeks medical information on death of deceased.
- Child worries excessively about his own health.
- Child sometimes appears to be unfeeling about loss.
- Child becomes the “class clown” to get attention.
- Child is overly concerned with caretaking needs.
Goldman, Life and Loss: A Guide to Help Grieving Children, 3rd Edition, 2014, p.45
Activities to include children in memorializing
- Make a play
- Write a letter
- Sing a song
- Act out a puppet show
- Invite friends and relatives
- Take photographs
- Create rituals
- Light a candle
- Plant flowers
- Bake cookies
- Write a poem
- Draw a picture
- Blow bubbles
- Send off a balloon
- Make a video
- Create a memory book or box or table
- Share memories
- Say a prayer
Adopted from Goldman, Lucy Let's Go: Helping Children Love A Pet Through Death and Dying, 2014.
SHARING GRIEF WITH WORDS
- Casket or coffin is a box that a dead person's body is placed in. It is then buried in the ground.
- Cemetery is a place where caskets and coffins are buried.Many people and pets can be buried there.
- Ceremony is a service with friends and family and animals. Everyone came together to remember and honor the person or pet that died.
- Cremation is the process of heating a body into ashes after someone has died. It does not hurt the person or pet because the body has already stopped working.
- Death is when a person's or pet's body stops working.
- Depression is a feeling of hopelessness and sadness that doesn’t seem to go away.
- Dying is when a person or pet is so sick the doctors can’t make them well.
- Faith is the belief that life will be OK again.
- Friends are people who listen and care. You can trust them and know they will be there for you if you need them. Animals can be friends too.
- Funeral (or memorial service) is a gathering of friends and family and animals where everyone can come together to remember the who has died and say goodbye.
- Grief is a feeling of sadness, anger, worry fear, or loneliness after someone dies.
- Guilt is a feeling that it is our fault that something happened.
- Homicide or murder is when someone makes someone else's body stop working.
- Memory is remembering something that happened in the past.
- Rituals are behaviors we can use to express grief. We can plant flowers or light a candle.
- Shame is feeling guilty about something we have done that we don't want anyone to know about.
- Suicide is when someone makes his or her own body stop working.
- Trauma is something unexpected that happens that might feel scary and bad.
Adapted from Goldman, Children Also Grieve: Talking About Death and Healing, 2005, p.79.