The moment when our friends and loved ones leave this world can be a very difficult and emotional time for any well-adjusted adult. But for a child, who hasn’t yet developed an understanding of complex emotions such as grief, it can also be a very confusing time. And, as much as we would like to shield our children from any pain and suffering, death is an unfortunate part of life. However navigating the grieving process with a child can be tough. When it comes to dealing with a grieving child there are some definite do’s and don’ts. Try a few of the following tips to help guide your child through this challenging time.
Don’t avoid it – Typically when we try to avoid a conversation, it’s because we are afraid that the conversation will be negative or will somehow be difficult. And that may be true; however, when you avoid speaking with your child about difficult things like death you are subconsciously teaching them that avoiding their feelings is better than confronting them. When it comes to serious life events, honesty is truly the best policy. Be honest and open when delivering the news and answering your child’s questions. Once you approach the conversation regarding death with your child, be prepared to answer lots of questions. Children are by nature very curious, so answer your child’s questions as best you can with information appropriate information for their age. For example, instead of going into detail about the circumstances surrounding someone’s death, you may want to stick to generalizations such as grandma’s heart was “sick” and did not work any longer.
Be there – Just as with adults, one of the best ways to support your child through their grieving is to simply be there to support them. Lend a compassionate ear to listen to their thoughts and feelings. Let them know that they are not alone and that you will support each other as a family.
Recognize the fear – Death can be a scary issue for children. And their active imaginations combined with an emotionally difficult time can often create frightening scenarios in their minds. Understand that your child will most likely need extra comfort and support from you during this time. It is not uncommon for a child to develop periods of separation anxiety during a time of grief. The amount of support they need will depend on a variety of factors including their age, how close of a relationship they had with the deceased, and their own level of maturity.
Show pain – Don’t be afraid to allow your child to see your emotion. Allowing them to see you experiencing pain can show them that crying and sadness are all natural responses to loss. In addition, it can help them become more comfortable with sharing their own feelings and emotions. Children learn by example so showing your child the proper way to handle their emotions will go a long way in preparing them for the inevitable. If you think your pain will be too much for you to be able to effectively support your child, make arrangements for a family member or friend to spend time with them during the service.
Encourage involvement – One of the biggest concerns when it comes to helping a child through the grieving process is, should I allow my child to attend the services? The answer to this question depends primarily on age and their level of maturity. If your child is of a mature age, allow them to be involved in the decision. Many times a child will become resentful if they are not permitted to attend the services held for their loved one and may lash out as a result.
Maintain a routine – Children tend to thrive on structure and consistency, so it is especially important to stick to your daily routine as closely as possible. This will reassure your child that life, in fact, does go on. Participate in school activities and team sports as usual and continue to stick to family meals and bedtime routines. Although they may experiences some changes in their life, having a consistent schedule will provide a source of comfort for your grieving child.
Look out for warnings – There are instances in which a child’s behavior may be severely affected when dealing with loss, specifically if the child had a close relationship with the deceased. If your child experiences a significant change in behavior, such as withdrawal from regular activities that were once fun to them such as after school clubs or they suddenly become more combative or aggressive, get help right away. Ask your child’s school guidance counselor or their pediatrician for a referral to a psychologist that specializes in children. A psychologist can help your child work through their feelings and create an appropriate treatment plan for them. Local support groups are also a great source of information and help. Contact a local funeral home such as Eckhardt Funeral Chapel in Owings Mills or Eline Funeral Home in Reisterstown for more information about groups in your area.
With a lot of patience and understanding, your child can get through the grieving process with a better understanding of his/her emotions and how to deal with them properly.