In November, we have the opportunity to reflect on how children grieve as we prepare to recognize Children’s Grief Awareness day on November 19th. We all know that children are not immune to experiencing grief, but sometimes children’s needs are masked and can be overlooked. This may happen because children don’t understand their feelings or they may not know how to express how they are feeling. Often times when a child is grieving, that means an adult loved one is also grieving. Perhaps the adult doesn’t understand how to process their grief and therefore doesn’t know how to help the child. Or maybe the adult doesn’t know how to muster up enough strength to help themselves and the child.
There are some differences as to how children and adults grieve. Kim Kelzer, LCSW, a Care Navigator with Heart ‘n Home shares, “Adults are generally able to show and share their emotions with others. Adults may cry or be angry or feel down, but will still be able to articulate that to those around them, and for the most part, are shown empathy and understanding. With children and adolescents, they often lack the vocabulary or even the understanding of what they are experiencing. With children, emotions can often come in the form of adverse behaviors. Fighting with siblings, damaging things (their own or someone else’s), and acting out in general are behaviors that we frequently see in children. In extreme cases, and more often with adolescents than younger children, this can manifest into self-medicating (alcohol, drugs) or self-harm.”
She continues, “Adults tend to see the ‘big picture.’ They understand that the seemingly little, day-to-day things in life are still going to be taken care of, but may worry about the bigger things such as paying for funeral costs or how they will pay a mortgage without their spouse’s income, etc. Children tend to focus on day-to-day survival. “Mom does the grocery shopping, so now who will do that? Who will pack my lunch?” Or “Dad has always fixed the car when it broke. Who will do that now?” “Who will drive me to dance every Saturday?” These seemingly insignificant things are a big deal in the minds of little people because it has a direct impact on their day-to-day lives.”
One thing that can help with addressing grief, is to address it early. This is why Heart ‘n Home has developed a Pre-Bereavement Program. By educating a person, especially a child on how the grieving process works, they will be better able to recognize what is happening once they start experiencing the many emotions of the grieving process. By understanding what may come after a loss, and by knowing how to verbalize their feelings, a child who has pre-bereavement help will have the tools they need to successfully navigate grief.
“Addressing grief before death, normalizes it. It also takes away some of the anxiety that can be involved with death. When the family as a whole knows what to expect, there is less anxious anticipation. Children may need the validation of “Yes, this will be sad and it will be hard, but our family will be okay” more than anyone else in the family system. Making sure that children know that there is no timeline of grief is also important. It is okay to still feel sad that you miss grandma a year, or five years, from now. Also addressing that it’s okay to remember and find joy in the good memories and talking about those times is just as important and healthy as talking about our grief and sadness,” Kim explains.
Heart ‘n Home has a unique program for grieving children. When hospice is started early, pre-bereavement services can start early. This way the whole family has the support needed when they are about to lose a loved one. Kim explains why Heart ‘n Home’s bereavement program is so special, “I feel that the team has worked and honed their skills and expertise over the years to develop a program for children that is multi-faceted. We have developed booklets for children & teens that are filled with coping skills. The booklets talk about what grief looks like, what feelings children may feel, and where they may feel those things within their body. The program normalizes those feelings for both children and their families. The earlier we can get in, the more we can help!”
If you or a loved one has a terminal illness, we are here to help! By starting hospice earlier, rather than later, children and their families are able to take advantage of our pre-bereavement programs. Children and teens have specially designed programs just for them. The pre-bereavement and post-death bereavement support have been proven to help individuals grieve in a healthy manner.
Contact us today to see if hospice is right for you. We are happy to visit with you and provide free education and an evaluation.