Updated: Jul 1
Last weekend, a coworker died in a fatal car accident. This tragedy has left all of us in a state of shock and dismay. In light of this catastrophe, a mother and friend asked me to share some advice on how to help children navigate this loss in the healthiest way possible. For this reason, I write these lines, aiming to assist families during such difficult times.
Coming to terms with the mortality of our loved ones can be challenging, and it's natural to feel overwhelmed by emotions during times of loss and grief. It's important to acknowledge that children also experience a range of emotions and may struggle to comprehend and cope with their feelings. As adults, we are responsible for offering them the support and guidance they need to navigate the grieving process in a healthy and nurturing way.
The first step is acknowledging and validating those feelings and ensuring our kids that it is okay to feel upset, sad, or confused about the idea that we don't live forever. Discussing death and loss can be difficult and uncomfortable, as it's often considered taboo. But it's crucial to view it as a natural and normal part of life so we're better equipped to handle it when it inevitably happens.
When it comes to talking to children about death, it's essential to use clear and age-appropriate language that avoids confusing euphemisms. Comparing death to actions like going to sleep or traveling far away can be misleading for children. Instead, we can provide real-life experiences to help them better understand. It's important to be honest when answering their questions while also being mindful of their emotional well-being.
You can support your explanations with some stories. Particularly for children dealing with grief and loss, there are several beneficial books. Two examples are "The Invisible String" by Patrice Karst and "I Miss You: A First Look at Death" by Pat Thomas.
Physical and emotional support, such as hugs, cuddles, or holding hands, can provide comfort to grieving children. Reassure them of your presence and availability whenever they need to talk or seek comfort. Encourage them to pursue activities they enjoy and provide opportunities for emotional expressions, such as drawing, writing, or playing music.
During times of grief, children also often find comfort in routines and stability. Stick to their regular schedule as much as possible, providing a sense of normalcy amidst the turmoil. Consistency in daily activities, such as meals, bedtime routines, and schoolwork, can offer them security and stability.
If you observe that a child's grief is severely affecting their daily routine, relationships, or general well-being, it is advisable to consider seeking professional help. Specialists in grief and loss counseling can provide personalized guidance and support to meet the child's requirements.
Every child's experience with grief is different, and the process of healing requires patience and time. It's important to be flexible and understanding, tailoring your approach to meet the needs of each individual child.
- How Children Understand Death & What You Should Say, at Healthychildren.org
- When a Loved One Dies: How to Help Your Child, at Nemours Kid Health