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holidays in full swing, it’s a time for joy, cheer and celebration. Most of us are blessed to be able to spend
these moments with those we love and create memories that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, others have lost loved ones
and this time of year can be especially hard.
Did you know
that in the United States 1 out of 20 children experience the death of a parent
by age 15? That’s a shocking number and
doesn’t even account for the loss of friends, grandparents or others that our
children hold so dear.
resilient and have unique ways of coping with their feelings, so it might not
always be easy to tell if they need additional support or help dealing with the
complex feelings of losing a loved one.
OUR HOUSE is a grief support center based in
Los Angeles. Their Clinical Director of
Child and Adolescent Programs, Lauren Schneider, shares some of the lessons
she’s learned from over 20 years supporting grieving children and teens:
Honestly explain the cause of death
Children want to be told the truth about the death. Tell them using direct,
age-appropriate language and ask them if they have any questions to clear up
misconceptions. Offer additional information in response to their questions as
the question indicates that they are developmentally ready to understand the
Children look to you as a role model
for how to grieve.
While each child will grieve in their own unique way, they will look to you for information about how to grieve.
Share your feelings with them about the death. While each child will grieve
in their own unique way, they will look to you for information about how to
grieve. Share your feelings without burdening them with the task of
caring for your emotions. Know that they may grieve alone in an effort to
shield you from their pain if you appear too fragile.
Help the child feel safe in a world
that has been turned upside down because of the death.
Provide clear and consistent boundaries, limits and expectations. Refrain from asking them to assume typically adult-like role such as serving as
your confidant or completing chores that the adult who died used to perform as
these may interfere with their developmental progress.
Identify an adult that they can go to
for support during the school day.
Since children spend most of their waking hours in the school setting that
needs to be a safe place for them to receive support. Identify a
counselor or teacher who is available to listen or comfort your child when they
experience a “grief tsunami” at school. This person can also be an ally
if your child is bullied by a peer.
Provide opportunities to honor the
memory of your person who died.
It is important to find ways to honor the memory of the person who died
especially around the holidays, birthdays and other celebrations. Include kids
when engaging in on-going rituals and in planning family remembrances such as a
balloon release, tree planting or participation in a memorial run like the Run
for Hope offered by Our House Grief Support Center. Consider suggesting
that the child have a special place of remembrance in their room such as a
memory box, drawer or altar/shrine. Never force them to visit the
cemetery or participate in a mourning ritual that they want to avoid.
Children need to be taught healthy
Discuss safe ways to cope when painful feelings arise and you are not there
to comfort them. Set aside time to engage in activities that help release
painful emotions such as exercising, listening to music, journaling or taking
deep, cleansing breaths.
Children need to be supported because
they fear that you might die too.
Because grieving children will fear another death, they need to know who
would take care of them if you could not. If possible, include them when
decisions are made. They want to know there is someone that will always
be there to love and care for them. Console them by stating that “most
people will live until they are very, very old” since that is statistically
Remember that kids are both smart and
resilient. Don’t be afraid to have
difficult, honest conversations with them. Keep the material age-appropriate and give them opportunities to ask
questions and explore their feelings. They will get through this and thrive, even after the death of a loved