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By Niki Walls, LSW – June 25, 2019

Death is a part of life, and grief comes along with it. Helping a child grieve and understand death can be very difficult.

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz explains, “Children understand that death is bad, and they don’t like separation, but the concept of “forever” is just not present.” Children often have a hard time wrapping their brains around the concept of death and do not always have the coping skills they need to handle it.

 If you are helping a child through the grieving process, here are some important tips to remember:

When breaking the news about death, be clear.  Do not use terms that a child may take literally, as a child may then become fearful of “going to sleep” if that is what they think happened to their loved one who passed. Do not volunteer too much information or go into details that could cause confusion or fear in the child. However, do be honest and answer their questions the best you can.

Each child grieves differently, just like adults.  The child’s moods may fluctuate and be inconsistent. This does not mean the child is grieving inappropriately; it just means they are processing in different ways. Sometimes the child’s action could reflect a defense mechanism they are tapping into as a way of coping. The child may feel many different emotions (such as anger or guilt) toward the person that has died, depending on their understanding of the situation.

Allow your child to express a variety of emotions.  It is good practice for everyone to be able to express the emotions they are feeling, especially grieving kids. Help your child understand their emotions and utilize a safe way of expressing these emotions. It may not be easy for your child to express them in an appropriate manner. If that is the case, encourage them to do things like writing, drawing, or role playing a memory of the person they have lost.

Understand your own grief.  Aside from helping your child grieve, you will likely be grieving yourself. Your child’s grief will likely reflect your own. It is important to allow your child to see safe emotion expression. Please do not project your grief onto the child. Do not make the child feel as though they need to be the caretaker in the situation or escalate it so it is emotionally harder for them.

Be consistent.  Kids crave consistency. They want a routine and a sense of normalcy. This is true in the calm of their lives and also in the chaos.

Practice coping skills.  Children can often struggle with self-regulation and managing their emotions. By practicing coping skills with the child, they will likely have an easier time containing extreme emotional outbursts. Coping skills can include a variety of things like listening to music, making a memory collage, journaling, etc.

Preparation.  It is important to prepare your child for what to expect from a funeral, burial, or any other death ritual that might take place so it does not come as a shock when they are in the moment. Your child may have questions about life after death, so it is important that your beliefs and others’ beliefs are discussed with them.While all of these practices are helpful to a child during the time of a loss, it important to monitor that the child is able to cope with grief and recover from loss in a healthy manner. If your child does not seem to be doing so, it is important to talk to a doctor or seek out a therapist.

By Jaclyn Durnil, MSW, January 15, 2019 –

Telling a child that someone has died can be difficult. Most children are aware of death, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand it.

Children may have seen someone die on television or in a movie, or some of their friends may have lost a loved one.

Experiencing grief can be a confusing and scary process for kids.  Grieving is a set of emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical reactions that can vary depending on the individual and the nature of the loss.

During the grieving process children may have a difficult time processing the actual event and coping with the loss of the loved one. One of the primary feelings can be fear – fear of not knowing what can happen in the future or fear of the unknown.

Some children might have a more difficult time with the grieving process. It’s very important to be patient and understanding. Long-term denial of death or avoiding grief can be unhealthy for children. Grief can easily resurface and cause more severe problems.

Children experiencing grief may exhibit these types of behaviors:

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Regression to younger behaviors, such as separation anxiety
  • Expressing a desire to be with the deceased person
  • Lack of interest in playing with friends
  • Changes in grades or school behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities that once excited them

Children are constantly learning and growing and may revisit the grief process several times. Events such as birthdays, graduation, holidays, etc. may be difficult for children at times.  There is no “normal” period of time for someone to grieve.

Simply being present and attentive to a child who is grieving will help as they express their feelings.  At times children may worry about how their parents or caregivers are adjusting. Children may find it safer and easier to talk with someone else such as a teacher, friend, Youth First Social Worker in their school, etc.

No one can prevent a child’s grief, but simply being a source of stability and comfort can be very helpful.  Very young children often do not understand that death is a permanent thing and may they think that a dead loved one will eventually come back.

For many children, the death of a pet will be their first experience with grief. They build a connection with their pet that is very strong, and when they no longer have that bond, it can be extremely upsetting. It is important to let the child grieve for their pet instead of immediately replacing the pet with a new animal.

During that period is an opportunity to teach the child about death and how to deal with grieving in a healthy and emotionally supportive way.  At times, children may seem unusually upset as they are unable to cope with grief, which can lead to adjustment disorder.

Adjustment disorder can be a serious and upsetting condition that some children develop after going through a difficult event. If a child is not recovering from a loss in a healthy way, it is important to consult with your child’s doctor.

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 10, 2018 –

“On Saturday, I’m going to help with Camp Memories.  I’m excited!” 

“What’s Camp Memories?”

“It’s a day-long program for kids that have lost a loved one.  It’s a great day.”

“That doesn’t sound fun.  That sounds sad.  What do you do all day, talk about people dying?”

This is typical of the response I receive when mentioning Camp Memories.  Grief is a subject that often makes individuals uncomfortable.  The idea of spending an entire day centered on loss is unimaginable to many; however, it’s one of my favorite programs.

When children lose a loved one, they experience a mixture of emotions.  Obviously, there is sadness and at times anger, but loneliness is also a key emotion related to grief.  After the death, the child must return to school where not many, if any, of their friends and classmates have experienced grief as they have.

According to an article in Social Work Today by Kate Jackson, this feeling of loneliness and standing out may lead to isolation.  Often, children cope with isolation by experiencing an increase in anxiety, substance abuse, and physical complaints.

At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants.  Children spend an entire day surrounded by other people their age that have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories began three years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief.  The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm.  Master’s level social workers facilitate the program.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities including sand tray therapy, normalizing grief through games, art therapy activities and free play.  Participants spend the day processing their experiences in a safe environment.  Additionally, parents participate in an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed about their child’s day.

At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed.  As the day progresses they begin sharing their experiences as well their emotional responses to these experiences.  Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

As the day grows to a close participants are smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with their new friends.  Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions.

In my experience as a facilitator for Camp Memories, I have seen children enter with grief weighing heavily on them.  I’ve seen these same children leave with a much lighter sense about them.  This is why this program is so important and beneficial.

Youth First’s next Camp Memories is scheduled for May 12 at Washington Middle School.  If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336 x 107.  Space is limited.  This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.