The following are some important things to note about helping children with grief.
1. Create a safe space for children to talk about any feelings they are having and to express them openly and honestly.
2. Remember that the child’s perception of their reality is their reality.
3. Each child will grieve in their own unique way and according to their relationship with the loss (e.g. ‘Dosing’ which means that a child innately knows how much sadness they can handle and after a time they will return to seemingly normal functioning.
Word of warning: this does not mean that the grief is healed or over. It simply means, this is the maximum dose of sadness that the child can handle in that moment.
4. While children are capable of experiencing feelings that are similar to an adult’s feelings, their thought processes are quite different. (I.e. Magical, Egocentric thinking)
5. Empathy, warmth, non-judgment, and acceptance are critical to successfully helping a grieving child. (There should not be consequences when the child honestly expresses feelings once the invitation has been given.)
6. Play is the natural method of self-expression and communication for a child. Using play scenarios to encourage expression of feelings can be very effective. It is also helpful to keep your inner child at the ready to assist you. Be willing to share stories from your childhood experiences to encourage them to express their feelings openly.
7. The behavior of a grieving child teaches us a great deal about what they are experiencing. (i.e. Aggression, anger, violence, regression, withdrawal etc.)
8. Remember that children are Spiritual beings and offer them help from that perspective as well.
9. While the emphasis of your conversations with them may be on the present and the future, don’t rob them of their right to remember the past. Honoring what was can be an important part of the healing.
10. Help children realize how they are changed by the loss and give them hope for the future.
11. The ultimate responsibility for healing lies within the child. Be responsible to them…not for them.
12. Guide them toward helpful actions they can take to express their thoughts and feelings and access their strengths. (i.e. artwork, scrapbooks, journaling, story writing etc.)
Children are little people with human emotions. Never assume that they are too young to grieve or that they are too young to understand loss. Even babies pick up on the energetic changes that take place when their caregivers are going through a loss.
It is never easy to have this kind of interaction with a child you love but if you remember to be honest with your words and your feelings, while not deluging them with your drama you will do so much toward helping them move through it. Just keep in mind that they don’t do things the way we do, nor do they think like we do. Know that, and allow them their natural process without your judgment or expectations.
Let your heart lead and when you don’t know what to say, remember that hugs are great.
I would love to hear your experiences or tips on how you handled discussing loss with