February 28, 2020 / Sarah Girling, ACSW, MSW
Having a loved one pass away is one of the most intense experiences that one will have to go through. The process is tricky to navigate as an adult so what does that mean when it comes to children? What is the best way to help children grieve without making the process more difficult that it already has to be?
There is no right way to grieve. When it comes to guiding a child down the grieving road, it is important that they know this information as it can make their individual experience more normal and personalized. Children learn from the role models in their lives how to behave and act in a variety of situations. That is why modeling grief can be a conflicting and confusing time; how are we supposed to explain what is the proper way to grieve when there is no definitive answer? Demonstrating and being open with the emotions that come with loss is one of the most important ways to help the child’s grieving process. They may not remember every detail when they are older, but they will always remember how it felt during this time. As long as they remember that they were encouraged to be open and express themselves is something that will help benefit them in later in life when going through similar situations.
A common dilemma that comes up is when deciding if the child should attend a funeral. Depending on the age, if they are old enough to comprehend the gravity of the situation, asking your child what they are comfortable with versus making a final decision with consulting them can make a huge difference. Letting them weigh in on this life-defining experience could set the precedence for similar situations in the future. No matter the age, preparing them for what to expect will help. For example, descriptions on what to expect beforehand will help reduce the stress of the event. It is a complicated decision that contains pros and cons to whatever the decision turns out to be. If your child is expressing an interest, we recommend allowing them to participate in an age-appropriate way. For smaller children, prepare to remove them from the situation if they get restless or bring activities to distract them. Designating someone to entertain them if the grief becomes too heavy is an option to consider as well.
A majority of children have the idea that adults have all the answers when in fact we do not. Becoming comfortable with saying “I do not know” and evaluating how much information to share on an age-appropriate level is another important route to consider. Letting your children know that they are open to feel whatever emotion it is that they are feeling and having them share their points of view on the situation is as equally important as walking them thru this daunting process.
No matter how hard we try, there is no true preparation that makes losing a loved one an easy transition. Adding children into the mix makes it even harder because there is someone else in the picture that require their needs to be met as well. There are a variety of ways to make sure that a safe space is created for children to express their emotions and be heard throughout this trying time. Reaching out to a professional, such as a school psychologist or your hospice bereavement team, to help your child accept their loss and acquire healthy coping mechanisms is a beneficial decision to consider as well.
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