Saturday, February 11, 2012

Children and Grief

English: Tears , often at childhood days. മലയാ...Image via WikipediaIn recent months, I've been asked to speak with several children about the death of someone close to them. In doing this I'm reminded of several principles of grief counseling that  I'd like to share.  The first one is that everyone grieves differently.  This is as true of children as it is of adults.  I've talked with children who are grieving over the loss of a beloved pet and others who have lost a parent or grandparent.  Some children are overcome with emotion and I've comforted children who cried daily with the continued illness of a grandparent but who once they died seemed to take it in stride and returned to life as normal.  I've also talked with students who showed no emotion at the loss of a parent and who weeks, even months later broke down in class at the mention of a Mother's Day project. We all feel and react differently to loss.

Most of us are all challenged as to how to respond when confronted with  someone who is grieving and there are no right words to say.  Listening, comforting, supporting no matter whether the feelings are anger, sadness or grief is most helpful. The relationship is more important than the words.   Because most of us are uncomfortable with others grieving, we often try to make things better or rush them through. Instead we need to be patient and allow the person to experience the emotions they have in the moment.  Just as everyone grieves differently, everyone grieves at a different pace.

Children like adults need permission to grieve.  We often ignore grief or try to distract others from grief by keeping them busy.  Instead provide an opportunity for the child to talk about the person who died and to develop their memories of them.  I often ask children what they will miss about the person who died and many children like to draw pictures to keep of their most cherished memories.  Families can also help children develop memories through rituals or through discussing their faith and religious beliefs with them as well.

There are several books available to help children through the grieving process.  Here are a couple that I've used:

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