Every person who suffers the loss of a loved one grieves, but each person’s grief is unique. When you’re helping someone find their own path to healing, it’s important to be sensitive to this fact rather than expecting bereavement to fit a certain pattern. This is especially critical to remember when the person is a child.
- Be aware that grief looks different when it’s being experienced by a child. A child who is grieving may seem upset one moment, then perfectly fine the next. Don’t discount the validity of a child’s sorrow just because it seems to come and go. Children just process grief differently than adults, and prolonged grieving may be too intense to manage. Understand, too, that grieving children sometimes regress into behaviors such as bedwetting or acting out. Try to help your child work through the pain while remaining patient with their process.
- You can help your child work through negative feelings and begin to heal. Answer questions, even when it’s difficult, and encourage your child to share feelings and memories. By making it clear that it’s not taboo to talk about the person who died, or even the death itself, you’ll make it easier for your child to open up. Find ways to help your child express himself, perhaps using a book about grieving as a conversation starter or doing something expressive such as working on a scrapbook or drawing a picture together.
- Don’t make it about your feelings, but focus on the loss the child has experienced. Don’t assume you know how your child is feeling or project your own feelings onto him or her. Try to listen more than you speak, asking open-ended questions that allow your child freedom of expression. One way to get children to talk to you about difficult topics is to focus on something else, perhaps by doing an activity together. If you’re doing something together, with no direct pressure to talk about anything in particular, you may be surprised at some of the things your child decides to share.
- Don’t minimize the child’s pain. Sometimes, people try to rush children through grief or reassure them that everything is “fine.” In fact, it may take a long time for your child to feel like things are fine, which is completely normal. Give your child all the time and space necessary for healing.
- Remember that it’s your job to be your child’s safe place. This doesn’t mean you can’t show your own grief. Knowing that you are hurting, too, can give your child a sense that you’re in it together. If you get lost in your own grief, though, your child may become frightened.
- Speak plainly about what has happened, using words the child can understand. Don’t use euphemisms such as “gone to a better place,” “lost” or “sleeping” because this can be frightening and confusing. A child who hears that grandpa’s death was like going to sleep may be afraid of bedtime. Another child may wonder why we can’t travel to the better place to bring his loved one back. Speak of death in clear and simple terms, using age-appropriate but truthful language.
- Offer practical ways to handle sadness. Make sure your child’s routine stays as normal as possible with healthy eating and sleeping habits. Allow expression of sadness, but don’t be afraid of some distraction. Sometimes, taking a break from grief to do something lighthearted can be therapeutic. Never force a child to attend a funeral, but leave the option open and allow it if the child wants to go. Helping children find ways to participate in planning the memorial can be beneficial, so speak to your funeral director about age-appropriate ways to participate.
For both children and adults, part of working through grief is remembering the life that was lived. If you’ve suffered a loss, Chapel of the Chimes Hayward wants to be there for you and your family. Contact us by visiting our website or by calling (510) 400-8316 to learn how we can help you plan a tribute that honors the life of your loved one and helps your whole family along the path to healing.