November 21st is recognized nationally as Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Children are often seen as the “silent grievers” but, as Alan Wolfelt has said, “If you are old enough to love, you are old enough to grieve”. Taking the time to increase the awareness of children’s grief is essential in raising the next generation to have adaptive skills in coping with life’s challenges.
I have the privilege of working alongside kids who have experienced a death in the lives. Some of these kids have lost their grandparents, parents, or siblings but we also recognize that children grieve all types of losses. The age of the child determines how they are able to acknowledge and process the reality of their loss. For example, a child who is 3 will not be able to understand that death is permanent, or that it happens to everyone. They also will struggle to understand that death is final. These understandings will change as the child ages and it is important to provide children with the information they need, therefore creating building blocks for them to understand as they get older.
One part of Children’s Grief Awareness Day is to “take a pledge” to tell three people about the day. Just the other day, some of the kids I have been working with helped me in taking this pledge. We used the butterflies that are available on the campaign’s website to identify those we have lost and had a discussion about how THEY could tell others about Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Additionally, these kids are now able to tell others about their grief experience, assuring other kids that they will be okay.
As a part of increasing our awareness, I offer these tips for supporting kids who are grieving:
- Encourage communication. Don’t assume a lack of questions means a lack of interest. Children are more likely to express themselves through art, play, or action rather than words.
- Share your feelings to help your children understand his or her feelings. By sharing, you can reassure your child that it is alright to have certain feelings. Children model coping skills and behavior from adults.
- Try to maintain a normal routine. Children need structure to feel secure during stressful times.
- When speaking with your child about an illness or death, use correct terms. Don’t over-explain, but be honest. Using terms like “dying” or “death” is actually more helpful than telling the child that “Grandma has gone to sleep.” The latter explanation can be more harmful than helpful as the child, in their developmental understanding, could think that grandma will wake up or, that if they go to sleep, they may never come back.
Of course, talking to a Social Worker or Spiritual & Grief Counselor with Heart ‘n Home can be helpful as you help children. These professionals can provide families with information on helping your child as well as providing visits that could allow children to ask emotionally sensitive questions they might be afraid to ask from family members because of the fear of making someone upset.
If you would like more information on Children’s Grief Awareness Day, please go to www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org and explore. If you have questions about children’s grief, you can always call Heart ‘n Home at 1-800-HOSPICE and speak to one of our professionals.