Children may not completely understand it, but they are aware of death. Death is a common theme in television and cartoons, and some children may have friends that have lost a loved one. This is all well and good, but experiencing grief firsthand is often confusing for kids.
Parents and caregivers can not protect children from the pain of loss, but they can help them feel safe. Allowing them to express their feelings will help build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future. Here are some ideas that will come in handy should you ever find yourself caring for a child who has lost a treasured loved one.
Kids Grieve Differently
After losing a loved one, a child may go from crying one minute to playing and being silly the next. This change in mood doesn’t mean they aren’t sad; it simply is their defense mechanisms helping them avoid becoming overwhelmed.
It is also normal for them to experience anxiety, depression, or anger towards the person who died or someone else. Young children may also go through a period of regression where they revert to baby talk or bedwetting.
Encourage Children to Express Their Feelings
Since many children cannot express their emotions through words, try to utilize other outlets like drawing pictures, scrapbooking, or telling stories. There are also many children’s books about death. Reading these books together is a great way to start a conversation with your child. It’s always good to get kids to express their emotions whenever possible.
Be Developmentally Appropriate
Older children understand the permanence of death but may still have many questions. Do your best to answer them as clearly and honestly as you can. Very young children may have trouble comprehending that death is permanent. They may believe that their loved one will return if they do their chores. Often children understand that death is something sad, but they don’t understand the concept of “forever.”
Discussing the Afterlife
Regardless of your religious beliefs, discussing an afterlife can be helpful to a grieving child. If you are spiritual with specific ideas about the afterlife, now is to share them. If you aren’t religious, now is a great time to talk to a child about how that person continues to live on in their mind and heart.
Get More Help
If the loved ones’ death is sudden, a child may require therapy to help them heal. If a child’s distress seems to linger for an extended period or you need more help with them, reach out to their doctor. They are fantastic resources to assist you in finding the service you need.
As you help a child navigate the turbulent waters of coping with grief, always allow them to lean on you for support. Remind them that they are not alone in their distress and that it is a normal feeling. Do your best to answer their questions. Model honesty and openness about loss, and the child will emerge more resilient from this experience.