A Community of Support After Loss
Death is part of life, but no matter our age, it can be a struggle to deal with the loss of a loved one. It can be especially difficult for young children who are unable to comprehend what has happened or teenagers who are struggling with overwhelming feelings.
Caring adults, whether parents, teachers, counselors or friends, can help children during this difficult time. If adults are open, honest and loving, experiencing the loss of someone loved can be a chance for young people to learn about both the joy and pain that comes from caring deeply for others.
Parents and guardians, you are the very best support system in meeting your child’s needs. You can provide the best explanation that fits with your values and beliefs. We encourage families to talk briefly following a loss of life and to acknowledge any feelings that may surface.
Children depend on adults. If we are unavailable for them, they have no one to turn to for help with their confusion, doubts, questions, and fears. Adults need to be able to comfort a child, even if it appears that the child is unaffected by death. Remember, it is more frightening for a child to be sent away than to stay and see a parent or other adult cry because of anguish. If you believe you are unable to comfort your child because of your own grief, find someone who can. Don’t try to deal with the grief of a child if you can’t deal with your own.
The needs of all children at this time include:
- Clear, understandable, and developmentally appropriate information
- Reassurance that they are safe
- The feeling of being involved and cared for
- Help in identifying and understanding the grief of others around them
- Acknowledgment of, and respect for, their own thoughts and feelings
- Continuation of usual interests and activities i.e. school, birthday parties, sports
What to Expect
During this period of sadness, you may notice a variety of reactions from your child. You may find your child unusually talkative or quiet. Your child may ask a lot of questions, be anxious, or may want to cling to you more than usual. These are all signals of the need for a little extra support. You may also notice no reaction from your child, and that is okay too. Children can experience a wide range of feelings and behaviors that are normal when dealing with this kind of tragedy.
Strive to recognize when children are in pain. Death hurts, and children need to be comforted and reassured that someone is there to help them through it. Reassurance is both physical and verbal. Hold your child to comfort them. Reassure them that it’s okay to cry, feel sorry for themselves and talk about their fears.
Check up periodically on how children are coping with their loss. Ask them directly if there is any help you can give. If you offer help, be sure to follow up on what you say you will do.
Remember, children are individuals. They will all grieve differently. Don’t be too quick to tell a child how to grieve. Don’t be surprised if children do not appear to be grieving. Sometimes they are trying to control their feelings.
Talk About It
Encourage children to talk about death. The real question is not whether we should talk to children about death, but when and how. When you talk about death, it is important to include feelings. Don’t be afraid of displaying emotions. In talking with children, especially young ones, it is important to use the words “death, dying, and dead,” and to explain that the body ceases to function. If we talk about death as “sleep,” the child might become afraid to go to bed. Children respect adults who are honest and open about death. Talk about death as permanent without euphemisms, myths, half-truths or fables. They need reassurance that death is NOT a result of their negative thought, feelings, wishes, or actions. If you select materials to help explain death and dying to children, please pay attention to your child’s age and intellectual development.