APPENDIX 2. For caring adults
We must meet the needs of our grieving youth in todays world. With constant media bombardment and instantaneous communication, there are no secrets. Children today are savvy about issues of death and their questions are quite sophisticated. They deserve honest and respectful responses to their inquiries. Our goal is to prepare and create an open climate by honoring questions, knowing the common signs, and providing language for dialogue. This climate provides an important opportunity to facilitate a childs grief process and enhance his or her resilience.
Common signs of grieving children
Grieving children can...
become the class clown or bully
seem withdrawn and unsociable
have bedwetting or nightmares
appear unable to concentrate
not complete schoolwork
show difficulty listening and being focused
appear overly talkative, disorganized, and unable to follow directions
have poor concentration around external stimuli
complain of stomachaches or headaches.
talk to their loved one in the present
imitate gestures of the person that died
idolize the person who died
create their unique spiritual beliefs
worry excessively about their health and the health of others
worry about death
show regressive behaviors (clingy, babyish, etc.).
What can we do?
Be truthful. Children have a conscious or unconscious knowing if they are not told the truth. Then they suffer another loss of trust of the adults around them.
Keep explanations simple. More is not always better. Children are often content with a simple answer, knowing they can come back if they have more questions.
Share the facts. In simple and concrete language, share the facts with children about what happened to their person in age-appropriate ways.
Remind children it was not their fault. Too often children are filled with magical thinking and can too easily find a reason why they caused their person to die.
Define death. Death is when the body stops working. Usually people die when they are very, very old, or very, very sick, or their bodies are so injured that the doctors or nurses cant make their bodies work anymore.
Allow children to he recognized mourners. Invite and prepare children to be part of the family grief process. They can read a poem at the memorial, place a picture in Grandfathers coffin, or plant a flower for their dog Scruffy.
Remember children grieve differently. Boys and girls grieve differently from adults. What may appear to be a frivolous play activity may actually be a very profound way youngsters are processing their grief. Mary came to grief therapy and explained she really missed her mom. She took the toy telephone and pretended to give her a call. Hi Mom. How are you? Are you OK? I really miss you. Let me tell you about my day.
Treat every child and their grief as unique. Children grieve as differently as they are individuals. Mary might cry and share her feelings, Lionel has nightmares, and Alex keeps a journal. Everyone is different and that is OK.
Include children in family illness. An ill family member that may be terminally ill is a challenge for all family members. By including children it allows them to understand what is going on, participate in helping, and be prepared for what may happen in the future.
Honor a childs belief system. Children begin to formulate their own spiritual belief system at a young age. Feeling their person is with them, or with God, can be important in their healing process. Respecting their experience is essential.
Prepare children for funerals and memorials. Children should be prepared and invited to these events, but never forced. They should be invited to ask questions about the service, and see how the community comes together to honor a life and say goodbye.