Tag Archive for: grief

By Sarah Roth, MSW, LSW

Although the holidays bring much joy and excitement, they are also a very difficult time for families who have experienced loss. Children are no exception. Feelings of grief may increase or present differently as the holiday season approaches.

So, what can we do to help grieving children?

  1. Understand that everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some may find comfort in talking, reminiscing, and doing things to honor the loss they have experienced. For others, these things may not bring comfort at all. Additionally, grief has no distinct timeline or roadmap. Family members may be at different stages of the grieving process. Remember that each family member’s journey is their own.
  2. Be honest with your children about your emotional experiences. As parents, we often feel we must shield our children from seeing our emotions so we do not further damage or worry them. While we do need to use discretion about what and how we share with our kids, it is also important that we are honest with them. This is especially important in times of loss. Our children are learning from our behavior. Hiding our feelings from our kids can lead to them feeling isolated and confused, as it may send a message that how they are feeling is abnormal. Demonstrating that it is okay to have feelings surrounding the loss is important and vital to everyone’s healing.
  3. Check in with your kid about their feelings. In addition to communicating with your child about your feelings, it is also important that you check in with your child about their feelings surrounding the loss. This helps you learn how to help them cope with the many emotions that may surface. It is important to relay the message to your children that even though they may be seeing each family member grieve in different ways, you’re all in this together. Encourage them to come to you if they have questions or feelings they do not know how to manage.
  4. Allow this year to be different while still providing consistency. There is an inherent change that occurs when loss happens. This is especially true during the holidays. Have an open discussion that traditions may look different than they did prior to the loss. Acknowledge that this is okay. It may provide comfort to all involved as opposed to moving through the holiday season as though nothing has happened. You can say things such as, “This holiday might look different because we don’t have ___ spending it here with us anymore. Is there a new tradition you would like to start or a way we could remember __ as we celebrate this year?” You could also ask, “Is there a tradition that we did with ___ that you would like to make sure we continue to do each year?” Providing a good balance of flexibility while not completely stripping the season of its routine is crucial. Working together to find what works for your family is an important way to ensure you are all providing each other with needed support.
  5. Know when to reach out to a mental health professional. If your child is struggling intensely during this time, it may be time to reach out for professional help. If you notice drastic changes in your child, seeking professional help may be the next step. Inability to complete daily tasks for a prolonged period, participating in risky/dangerous behaviors, or disconnecting emotionally are a few signs that seeking help may be beneficial. For some families this may only last a short period, but for others more long-term treatment may be necessary. Checking with your child’s school to see if there are mental health professionals in the building is a good place to start. The child’s family physician may also be able to connect your family with other resources to provide additional support.

By Sarah Audu, LSW – December 22, 2021 –

Grief is often viewed as a sensitive subject, for obvious reasons. It is something we tend to maneuver around with caution. This is likely because each person experiences some form of grief in their lifetime, and we as humans are empathetic towards each other.

We want to handle each other’s struggles and emotions with care. An even more fragile subject to consider is the grief of a child. It is our human nature to want to be gentle and cautious when helping a child who is experiencing something difficult in their life. This can lead to us being hesitant for fear of saying the wrong thing as we try to support them.

Losing a loved one is not the only form of grief a child may experience. Grief can be the emotional result of many scenarios, such as a child’s parents getting a divorce or a best friend moving away. These difficult situations produce hard emotions for the child, because they are experiencing change, pain, and loss. When a child experiences these changes, he/she must learn to cope in the the best ways they know how.

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous time for all. However, many people dread this time of year due to the pain and grief they are feeling inside. One child may be struggling this holiday season because this is the first year her family will be celebrating Christmas without her father, who suddenly passed away. Another child may be trying to cope with their mother living across the country, confused and unsure when they will get to see mom again.

Every person deals with grief, pain, and loss differently. Experiencing depression, anxiety, and sadness is often viewed as the “normal” emotional reaction to grief. However, some people may state they feel alright most of the time. It may be more healing and beneficial for them to go through their daily routine as they did before, and deal with the painful stings of grief as they arise.

Children are very resilient. They are commonly much stronger than we imagine them to be, especially while facing a challenging situation that has caused them emotional pain. Something we can do to ease the pain of grieving children during the holidays is to follow their lead in conversation and pay close attention to how they are handling their emotions. They may surprise you and show exactly what they need from you in that moment.

Some children may want to deal with their grief in this season by continuing with past traditions and including their loved ones in a new way. Children may also want to start different traditions and create new memories.

What we know for sure is that children have big hearts, and this season gives us a wonderful opportunity to hold them a little closer and give them the support they need during challenging times.

By Laura Keys, LCSW, and Heather Miller, LCSW – May 21 2021-

More than half a million Americans have died of COVID-19 and, in Indiana, families are grieving the loss of nearly 15,000 loved ones. The pandemic will define a generation of children who lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver. A recent study estimates 43,000 US children lost a parent to COVID-19, not to mention the countless grandparents that have died as well.

In response to this need, Youth First will provide two free, daylong grief recovery retreats for kids this summer. Called Camp Memories, this retreat began five 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 9 am-5 pm.  Master’s level social workers facilitate the program. At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants. Children spend an entire day surrounded by people who have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities that help remove barriers to healthy grieving through games, art therapy activities, and free play. Geared to meet the needs of kids from 1st through 12th grade, the camp creates a safe environment for bereaved kids to process what they’re going through and get the care they need.  Additionally, parents are given an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed and equip them to be helpful as their kids leave the camp.

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 as their emotional responses to these experiences. Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions. Invariably, by the end of the day the group is smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with new friends.

This year’s Camp Memories dates are June 12 at Washington Middle School in Evansville and May 29th at Camp Illiana in Washington (Daviess County). Both camps start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. 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.

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.