When we grieve the death of an important person in our lives difficult questions surface with astounding urgency. . . What do we say to the family? What should we do to show how much we miss this person? How and what do we tell our children? The questions surrounding the needs of bereaved families and their children are perhaps the most challenging to answer. However, the most important point to remember is that the child’s entire world has changed. As adults we struggle with how to phrase our answers about death, yet beyond the questions about death and mourning, we must be mindful that there are many other hours of the day and many other activities impacted by the death in a child’s life.
Communicating: Thoughts, words and actions
Parents and caregivers often struggle with how to talk to their bereaved children. They worry about finding the right words, when to have such profound conversations and how much information to give their children. Adults often fear that too much information can unnecessarily burden a child, while too little information leaves children puzzled and confused. It is helpful for children to learn how to think about, describe, and talk about their feelings. When adults assist children, they fare better and they are better prepared to cope with reminders of the deceased as well as making sense of the emotions and behaviors associated with grief. Balance is the key, even when adults express their own emotions in front of children. Honest emotions and unambiguous words help confirm the child’s feelings and grief experiences. Words do matter but nonverbal behaviors that convey warmth and sensitivity are just as important. All of these tools can assist adults as they facilitate a child’s grieving.
Below are some articles that reflect on what caring adults can do to assist in the healing process and how we can raise consciousness in schools and communities on the needs of bereaved children and families.
Talking about It
Celebrations and holidays: finding joy again
Holidays and celebrations can be times of excitement and busy-ness. For bereaved families the death and absence of a family member is felt even more intensely. Such times can be more stressful because there can be an increased sense of being different or alone; the feeling that everyone else is joyful and happy, while their world is locked in the sadness of grief. These are all very natural and commonly experienced feelings associated with grieving during the holidays.
Children are especially perceptive and will keenly observe how their family members move through these emotionally charged times. Eliminating holidays or celebrations or even making small changes in a traditional family celebration can multiply losses. Discussing and planning family celebrations with children can empower them. While such conversations can be difficult for adults, patience and encouragement will help members of the younger generation express their thoughts and ideas.
Family rituals and traditions facilitate healing. Planning and talking about holidays and celebration possibilities with children can help prevent disappointments. Small changes in existing family traditions are often easier than making a major shift. Check in with children after the holidays, ask them how they think things worked out and what they might do differently in the future.
How to support bereaved children over the holidays: A tip sheet for parents and caregivers