Even though death is a natural part of life, talking about it with kids can be unnerving for parents. We would like to keep our children immune from such troubling events, but in reality kids do experience grief and loss. Therefore it is essential that we help them to process through it.
What you need to know:
Avoid setting a timeline
Because grief is not a linear process, there is no timeline. Some grievers may find a new sense of normalcy right away, while others may take much longer. For kids in particular, it is normal to have grief responses after what might seem like a long period of time. It’s also not uncommon for kids to display grieving behaviors following other, unrelated events.
Don’t expect a certain intensity of emotion
Some kids may cry or display irritability, while others may seem emotionally unaffected. Either of these reactions is normal, as is anything in between. If parents expect their kids to react with a certain level of intensity, it opens the door for negative feelings. Kids may feel like a burden for needing lots of support or they may feel guilty for being less affected than others. If there are no expectations, then kids are free to deal with their grief in a way that meets their own emotional needs.
Forget the Stages
You may have heard about the stages of grief; such as denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, etc. Don’t get too hung up on these because there isn’t a whole lot of truth behind them. It would be easier if grief followed predictable stages, but it does not. Grief is a process that is different for each individual. If you don’t notice your children following these stages there is no reason to worry. Instead, know that they are dealing with it in their own unique way.
How you can help:
Be honest yet age-appropriate
Before talking with your child, decide what details they should know based on their age. This will help to avoid feelings of confusion among kids. Preschoolers and grade school children have a much different sense of reality than middle school or high school kids. Sharing too much can be overwhelming while sharing too little can feel frustrating.
Be available for questions
Kids just need to know they have someone safe to come to. And remember it is ok if you don’t have all the answers. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.” Allow for creative expression Offer kids the opportunity to use expressive outlets other than just talking. Kids often prefer independent drawing, reading, or journaling to express themselves and process information.
Take care of yourself
Chances are, if your child is grieving, then you are as well. Know that children and adults grief differently. The best way to help your kids is by monitoring your own grief process. If things seem too difficult to manage don’t be afraid to find community supports or professional help.
Some book recommendations:
It is important to preview any book before sharing it with your child. As a parent, you need to make sure that the book is suitable for your child’s maturity level and is appropriate for your child’s grieving experience. Here are a few suggestions:
- I Remember Miss Perry by Pat Brisson
- Rudy’s Pond by Eve Bunting
- Jim’s Dog Muffin’s by Miriam Cohen
- The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
- That Summer by Tony Johnston
These recommendations come from the No Time For Flashcards blog. Click here for details: http://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2010/09/books-about-death.html