By Jenna Kruse-Pauli, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.
As parents and caregivers, our first instinct is always to protect our children. Unfortunately, one thing that we can never protect them from is loss. We can, however, support them and have positive discussions with them to help them cope with grief.
November is Children’s Grief Awareness Month, which highlights the importance of supporting bereaved children through difficult times. Grief looks different for every person at every age, but there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
After experiencing a loss, a child can experience very difficult emotions that can change drastically and quickly. No matter what those feelings are, they are all part of the grieving process. It is normal for children to experience anger, sadness, guilt, or anxiety. Very young children may even experience a regression and begin baby talk or bed wetting once again.
While you cannot take the hurt away, providing a safe place for children to express their feelings is a healthy way of encouraging positive coping. Reading books about loss, allowing students to draw pictures, or sharing pictures and memories is another way to work through the difficult emotions they are experiencing. You may also incorporate discussion around lost family members in prayer if that is a part of your family values.
In addition, sticking to routines will naturally help regulate your child’s emotions, allowing them to take comfort in familiar tasks or traditions. This will help children recognize that while some things have changed, many things will still be the same.
When talking to your student about death, be developmentally appropriate. Listen and provide answers to their questions instead of offering up too much information. Be clear and honest in your answers. If you cannot answer everything, just being available to listen and provide support will be the best thing you can offer your child. Be direct with your child when discussing death. Using verbiage like “they went to sleep” can make your child fearful of bedtime.
Deciding whether your child should attend the funeral is a big decision. Funerals can provide closure but can also be very difficult for children. If your child is old enough, allow them to decide if they want to attend the funeral. Never force your child to attend a funeral if they do not feel comfortable. If your child does want to attend, prepare them for what they will see.
Often parents are so worried about supporting their child, that they do not process the grief they are experiencing. Modeling healthy coping skills and communication is a great way for children to understand that it is acceptable to have these difficult feelings and learn appropriate ways to handle them. If you ignore your own grief, your child will do the same.
Remember that the best support you can give your child at this time is a listening ear. If your child is having difficulty coping in a healthy way, reach out to your school’s Youth First Social Worker, who can provide more resources to help you at home as well as support your student at school.