Children's Grief Awareness Day 2017: What Do Grieving Children Need?
Grief sucks no matter what age you are, but kids need greater support.
Grief, as most of us know, is a very tricky thing.
Some want to talk about it. Others, for fear of breaking down or somehow seeming "weak," don't. Our youngest members of society have it particularly rough, as they often take their cues from us about how to act and react when it comes to loss. Loss is an unavoidable part of our lives; whether we are discussing death of a loved one or beloved pet, or a loss of an important relationship in our lives, we all cope with loss in different ways.
Kids especially will likely need extra support in dealing with their own grief following a loss. Someone's death is not necessarily the trigger for someone's grief; loss encompasses a good deal more than that, and while anyone who is grieving needs to understand that grief is a normal part of comping with loss, children may need reassurance that how they are feeling is all right.
According to ChildrensGriefAwarenessDay.com, one out of 20 kids will deal with the death of a parent prior to high school graduation. One out of five, or 20 percent, of kids in school will have to deal with the loss of someone close to them, and very often, the pain that kids feel following death or loss is more intense than that which an adult might feel. Consider the emotional upheaval and turmoil we all felt as teens, just due to the surging hormones of puberty; now, throw in having to deal with grief on top of that, and you will understand that dealing with grief as a teen could be particularly painful.
Consider trying to come to terms with loss when you're a young child. You don't necessarily have the vocabulary to discuss how you are feeling or what you're thinking, and you might even be young enough to not understand that the person—in cases of death, at least—will not be back to give you a hug, or tuck you in at night, or play with you. These are incredibly difficult ideas to process as an adult, but when you lack the cognitive development that many kids do when they experience loss at a young age, these ideas become that much more difficult to process.
So how do we help kids process grief so they can get back to being kids?
Part of the issue is also that as adults, we do not always have the right approach to dealing with grief, either. Because adults tend to have more responsibilities than kids—or at least, very different ones—many of us tend to have the approach that we need to return to "business as usual" sooner rather than later after a loss. The problem is that grief has no timeline.
The other issue is that we have come to believe, in no small part due to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' work with grief, that grieving works in the same way steps on a staircase does—that once you go through each step, you won't ever return to that point in your grief about a particular loss. However, the stages of grief are not quite that clean, and when residual anger comes up about a loss—anger that we thought was dealt with previously—we are often not sure how to proceed.
Grief is a very individual journey, and we all work through it differently, so how do we help kids?
Part of how is simply by talking about it. It's all right to say to a child or teen, "If you want to talk, I'm here to listen," or "I'm sad to hear that your (insert loved one's name here) died," or even "I don't know what to say, but know that I'm here for you." Simply by opening the door to a conversation, you can help a child or teen talk about grief.
In addition, the knowledge that just because a child or teen seems calm or happy doesn't mean their world doesn't feel upended inside is important. Kids learn from adults how to play the game and how to seem "normal" in the face of grief. Furthermore, kids don't want to worry their already-grieving parents in the face of a loss. Keep an eye on the child or teen that's been through a loss; they may not be saying much, but there might be enough there to indicate the turmoil that's probably going on inside as they try to come to terms with the loss.
Grief sucks, no matter what age you have to deal with it. Trying to navigate it as a child might feel almost impossible. Let's keep an eye on our grieving children and teens and remind them that they aren't alone.