By Guest Blogger: Kelly Daugherty, LCSW-R
This blog in the Grief & Loss Blog Series will focus on Children & Grief. Today, November 21, 2019, is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. This blog will focus on what you need to know about children and grief and will include some resources for you to help grieving children.
Some statistics about grief and children according to childrensgriefawarenessday.com
- According to the Journal of Death and Dying, 1 in 5 children will experience the death of someone close to them by the time they turn 18 years old.
- According to the Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing: 1 out of every 20 children will suffer to death of one or both parents by the time they turn 15 years old
- 1.5 million children are living in a single-parent household because of the death of a parent.
- It is estimated that 73,000 children died every year in the US and 83% have surviving siblings.
- According to the study titled: Grieving in Schools: Nationwide Survey among Classroom Teachers on Childhood Bereavement, classroom teachers report that students exhibit the following symptoms following the death of a parent:
- Difficulty concentrating in class
- Withdrawal/disengagement and less participation
- A decrease in the quality of work
- Less reliability in turning in assignments.
Some things to know about grieving children from my experience:
- Children grieve differently depending on their developmental stage. Depending on their age they may view death as reversible and don’t understand that they are never going to see their loved one again.
- Use concrete terms with children- its ok to use words like death and dead.
- It’s ok to let children attend funerals and wakes, but prepare them for what they are going to see so they are not surprised
- Children re-grieve at every developmental stage.
- Children grieve through the play and grieve very differently than adults. Just because they are playing and seem to be ok doesn’t mean they aren’t grieving.
- Children who are grieving usually feel very alone like they are the only child going through a loss. Connect them with a support group at your local Hospice or find a grief camp they can attend.
- Be honest with children about how they died even if it is difficult to explain. Seek out the help from an experienced grief counselor if necessary. Children overhear things, kids tell them things and they can find information out on the computer and it's better, to be honest with them.
- Children may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, fatigue and increased illness.
- Behavioral symptoms include issues with sleep, a decline in grades, nightmares, crying self to sleep, social withdrawal, bed wetting, clinginess, difficulty concentrating, focusing and mood swings.
- Children worry that someone else is going to die especially the surviving parent.
- Children do not grieve in some kind of predictable way. Each child will grieve differently.
- Children may say that they see the deceased or talk to the deceased. This is normal.
How to Help Grieving Children:
- Contact school to let them know about the death.
- Communicate in a gentle, warm, empathetic way.
- Never compare losses. All loss is experienced at 100%.
- Find a grief camp or group and encourage them to attend at least once. If they go once, they most likely will return.
- Give the child permission to express their feelings and validate their feelings.
- Be a companion in their grief journey which means being present to their pain.
- Don’t make statements such as “Don’t be sad” or “Everything is going to be ok”.
- Be honest- answer their questions.
- Take about their loved one, use their name, share memories.
- Use active listening.
- Don’t put too much pressure on the child. They need to be children and shouldn’t have extra responsibilities given to them.
- Use concrete terms- death, dead, die.
- Appropriately share your own grief. Children cannot do their own work without permission and role models.
- It is ok to answer some questions repeatedly, they are trying to make sense of it.
- Keep family routines as consistent as possible.
- Keep rules and discipline in place and don’t give in because you feel bad for the child.
- Communicate with the child that they didn’t do anything to cause this death and they can’t catch it if it was an illness.
- Allow them to participate in the funeral in some way if they want. Make a card to put in the casket, write a letter to their loved one, etc.
- The Dougy Center- lots of great resources
- National Alliance for Grieving Children- includes links to grief programs across the country and more
- Center for Loss & Transition- www.centerforloss.com
- Helping Children with Grief and Trauma- www.childrensgrief.net
- Wave Riders through Community Hospice: https://www.hospicegriefservices.com/
- Cindy's Comfort Camp through Glens Falls Hospital CR Wood Cancer Center https://www.glensfallshospital.org/services/hospital/cancer-center/support-services-survivorship-programs/camps-and-retreats/
- “I Miss You” by Pat Thomas
- “When Dinosaurs Die” by March Brown
- “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” by Leo Buscaglia
- “Lifetimes” by Brian Mellonie & Robert Ingpen
- “Tear Soup” by P. Schwiebert & C. Deklyen
- Dougy Center Store- tons of great resources including books, brochures, DVDs and more
There are many great resources for children & grief and your local Hospice can be a great resource as most have children's bereavement programs and their services are offered at no cost to anyone in the community.