Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Help a Grieving Child

“What happens when we die?” “Where is heaven?” “Does everybody die?” These are all very common questions for children following the death of someone or something they love. The majority of children will have their first death experience through the death of a pet.
A child’s hunger for understanding about death can be a difficult dilemma for parents to deal with. Parents sometimes are stuck in their own grief, or simply lack the skill set to address the seemingly complicated questions posed by their children. Prior to going into a complex explanation about death, try to take time and think about why the child is asking the question. Is it simple curiosity? Are they seeking safety and emotional security? Are they afraid? Sometimes figuring out why your child is asking the question can guide you in how to answer their question. Always answer their questions honestly, in age appropriate ways and reply with “I don’t know” if you really do not know the answer. Adults cannot make the grief go away and cannot bring the loved one back. Adults should recognize that grief is a normal and healthy process that for their child to experience.
Children of all ages struggle with a constant need for reassurance that they are loved, safe and well taken care of. During time of grief, these needs become as important as food and water for the child. The underlying fear and/or anxiety of his or her own mortality is something they yet have the ability to verbalize. Instead children often act out behaviorally, have more crying spells and whine when they do not get their way. Children engage in these attention seeking behaviors because they lack the ability to verbalize the underlying need of wanting reassurance that they are loved, safe and cared for. Take time to reassure your child that you love them, will protect them and meet their basic day to day needs.
How your child understands death will have a lot to do with how you understand death. Speak with your child honestly and remind them that they are surrounded by many adults who love them and care about them. Children often are in tune with how the adults around them are feeling. If you feel sad it is ok to let the child know you are sad. Normalizing the sadness in losing someone we care about is a great way to help children understand not to be ashamed of how they are feeling. Also, we can role model for children how to continue living, meeting our daily obligations and loving those that are still in our lives. This not only teaches the cycle of life, it also teaches the child that things in their world are still stable.
Sometimes there is a sudden death or a family tragedy that affects multiple family members. There are times when a child has a significant impairment in their ability to function after a death. Some children experience clinical levels of anxiety, depression and may seek unhealthy coping mechanisms. If you are a parent of a child experiencing grief, please contact our office for more information on how we can help your child, at 386-736-9165.
Jennifer Nadelkov, MA, LMFT

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jen, I also believe that children that lose a parent to prison or jail are going throught the same grieving process. This is a family tragedy that effects all family members and often no one is addressing the children.They are dealing with all the same feelings that a "death" incures. Because so often it is a death that never ends.