Monday, November 24, 2008

Children and Grief

Children experience loss at least as profoundly as adults, but they have more limited abilities to understand death and to communicate their feelings. It is vitally important for children to have the opportunity to talk about death and to participate in the funeral services of their loved ones. One wise grandmother I know made a point of taking her grandchildren to the funerals of people the children knew, but were not very close to, when they were young. She knew that the day would come when the children would experience the loss of a close relative, and she wanted them to be prepared for the realities of the situation at a time when it would be easier for them emotionally.
Following is some good advice for dealing with grieving children from an article on grief counselling for youngsters on

To help a child who is suffering the loss of a loved one:
• Know that children may have trouble putting their feelings into words.
• Know their behavior may "speak" for them. Feelings of anger or fear of abandonment may show up in behavior.
• Explain dying in simple, direct language. For example, to a young child, you might explain that part of the loved one's body does not work well any more, and without that part working, he or she will die.
• When talking with children, use the proper words, such as "cancer" and "died." Euphemisms such as "passed away," or "she is sleeping" can confuse children and lead to misunderstanding.
• Respond to children with warmth, sensitivity and patience. Answer children's questions but don't overload them with information.
• Allow the child to participate in caring for the terminally ill individual in a way that is meaningful for the child.
• Allow for diversion from the intensity of the situation with opportunities for play and recreation.
• Reassure children they are safe. They often worry they will die, too, or another loved one will die.
• A warm hug and a listening ear can be most reassuring.
• When the death occurs, encourage children to participate in mourning rituals, such as the funeral, if they choose. Explain in advance what they can expect.
• By openly expressing their feelings, adults show children it is natural to grieve when a loved one dies and that pain will ease over time.

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