We don’t often think about grief as an emotion a child can experience because it’s such a big emotion. We use more common emotions to explain what children experience, happiness, sadness, anger or fear. You might wonder, how can such a big emotion fit in such a tiny person?
Grief is deep sorrow and can be triggered by a multitude of factors including:
- Death of a loved one
- An ill family member
- Family separation
- Big life changes
Children’s Grief Awareness Day seeks to bring attention to the fact that support can make all the difference in the life of a grieving child.
“Children grieve, too. That simple fact is often unrecognized so children become disenfranchised grievers. In some cases, they are disenfranchised- without a right to grieve- because we think they cannot understand or we want to protect them – and ourselves. In other cases, we may misunderstand the ways their grief is expressed-perhaps in behavioral issues, bedwetting or even play.” Said Kenneth J. Doka, PhD Profess, The College of New Rochelle Senior Consultant, The Hospice Foundation of America.
If you have a child that is experiencing grief, you can help them by:
- Acknowledging their grief:
It is normal for children to feel an array of emotions, including sadness, anger, frustration and fear. It is also normal for children to move in and out of grief reactions, at times being very upset or getting angry easily and at other times playing as if nothing has happened. If you are not sure how grief is impacting your child, spend time with them playing, coloring, drawing or sharing stories. Quite often children will give you clues to their grief through these activities.
- Create rituals and new family traditions:
Rituals can give your family tangible ways to acknowledge your grief and honor the memory of those who have died. Lighting candles, recognizing special occasions, sharing stories about those who have died or volunteering with a local charity as a family are some of the ways you can incorporate new traditions or rituals.
- Be creative:
Give your child a creative outlet to express feelings. This can be done through drawing, writing, doing crafts, listening to music, or playing games.
- Maintain clear expectations:
Keep rules and boundaries consistent. Children gain security when they know what is expected from them. Children will often use their pain as an excuse for inappropriate behavior. While you should always acknowledge the grief your child is experiencing, you should also teach them to be accountable for their choices, no matter how they feel.
Grief is a very complex emotion for all people and everyone processes grief in different ways, especially children. There is no right way to grieve, but there are resources for children who are grieving.
Midland Care’s Center for Hope and Healing specializes in Children’s Grief specific to the death of someone they love. Ways Midland Care can help are:
If you have a child that is grieving, please reach out there is hope, comfort and support available for you and your child.