Children Grieve, Too

A child may not seem to know what has happened or what's going on, but, they do have good sense.  They often cue into their senses and own feelings as well as those of others as the news and information is shuffled around from one adult to another.  Their antennae are up and working even though the adults may think that the youngster is not listening or paying attention.

Things to consider as you speak with a child about the death of a loved one:

  • Answer their questions.
  • Be open and honest about your own feelings.
  • Speak in words the child can understand, stay away from euphemisms about  death like, "The person has gone to sleep".
  • It is OK for you to cry in their presence...they don't need to be "protected" from reality.
  • By our example as adults, we are teaching children how to react.
  • Always verify their feelings as  legitimate.
  • Assure them they are not to blame, that their loved one did want not leave them, they are still loved.
  • Be aware of injurious behavior....not eating, sleeping , aggressive actions, not talking at all, hiding in room or out of the house and away from others for an extended amount of time. 

Children need closure

Children need to be invited to be part of the funeral process. Here are some ways to have them be involved in saying "good bye" to this special person in their lives:     

  • Ask the child if he/she would like to come to the funeral/walk up to the casket/touch their loved one.
  • A child should never be forced to do anything connected with saying goodbye, but they should be given an opportunity to participate (they may even change their mind- allow for that)  
  • If there is something the child wants to do, but you are uncomfortable with, assure them that their feeling is ok, but this is not the time or place to express it in this way.    
  • A child may write a letter to be read at the funeral and/or to be placed in the casket. 
  • Invite the younger child to draw a picture of themselves with their loved one (or anything they would like to draw) that can be placed in the casket with their loved one. 
  • Some children enjoy creating a memory page where they describe a special activity that they enjoyed with their loved one.  It could also involve finding some pictures of them together. 
  • Encourage the child to do the activity(s) that they did with their loved one but with another caring adult who is also comfortable with speaking with them about their loved one. 
  • When the adults close to the child are deep into their own grief, make sure there is someone the child can relate to, who is available for them emotionally during the funeral, and beyond.

Children have different types of understanding of death depending on their level of development.  Depending upon how they are able to conceptualize the world, 2-4 year old children understand death differently from older children and differently from adolescents.  This means that a child's understanding of a death not only varies, but that their understanding of a specific death may undergo changes as the child ages.  thus it may be necessary to revisit the death (gently, of course), as a child ages to see how he or she is understanding  it at their current age.

Introducing the "Langeland Lions" - Leah and Leo

Leah and Leo share with children and adults that there are so many feelings associated with grieving and many ways to express them.  Pick up a brochure "Introducing Leah and Leo" to share with a child in your life who is touched by the death of a special person.