Kids who are grieving…
When someone you love dies, you might feel as though you are the only person in the world feeling the way you do. The truth is that you’re not alone. Everyday, there are other kids who lose a brother or sister, a mom or a dad, a grandma or a grandpa…someone that they love. And even though no one’s feelings are exactly the same, you are all grieving.
“Grieving” is when you miss the person who has passed away. It’s that empty feeling you get when you remember that they’re gone. You might feel angry or sad or confused. You might feel like crying or sleeping, playing or going to school—and you might not. You might get stomachaches or headaches. You might want to be with your friends or spend some time alone. Whatever you are feeling, it’s okay to feel that way.
The grownups in your family might be grieving too. That might make you scared you will hurt their feelings if you talk about how you feel. The truth is that most grownups would be more sad if you didn’t share your feelings with them, so give it a try. You can also talk a teacher, minister, or counselor. Sometimes, it even helps to talk to a friend. If you don’t feel like sharing your feelings, that’s okay too. Maybe you could write in a journal or draw pictures about how you feel.
Sometimes, other people might forget that kids grieve. It’s okay to politely remind them, “Someone I love died”.
Sometimes, people might say things to make you feel better but it hurts your feelings instead. Or, sometimes, people won’t say anything at all because they think talking about it will upset you. It’s okay for you to say, “It hurt my feelings…” and tell them why.
And remember, it’s okay to feel angry or sad or whatever you are feeling–you can’t control what feelings you have–BUT you can control what you do with those feelings. Make positive choices to let those feelings out and take good care of yourself…the way the person you love who died would want you to.
Here are two resources that may help with young child and sibling grief.
For the Grownups who love them…
Someone you loved has died. Now imagine that everyone around you is trying to shelter you from having any involvement with funeral arrangements or the cause of the death. Would you be angry? Would you be confused?
Though this is no doubt a difficult time for you and your family, please try to remember to include your kids as much as possible. Let them help with the funeral arrangements, talk to them about your beliefs, help them to understand the cause behind the death.
Very young children (2 and younger) may not understand anything more than the fact that their routine has been changed or that mom and dad are upset. Try to comfort them as best you can with continuity and reassurance. Talk to them about their loved one who has died.
Preschoolers understand a lot more than they are able to express. This may result in their acting out by “fit throwing” or having angry outbursts. Let them be creative in expressing their grief with drawings or play doh. Talk to them about their loved one who has died.
Adolescents will have differing reactions. Some will become withdrawn as they try to keep their feelings from upsetting you. Some will become anxious as they wonder about their own death. They may experience more somatic feelings such as headaches or stomachaches. Encourage them to keep a journal or express themselves in other ways. Talk to them about their loved one who has died.
Teenagers will most likely become distracted or withdrawn. They may feel they need to fill the role of “caregiver” to help lessen your burden. They also may question their existence. They may turn to friends for support. Talk to them about their loved one who has died.
Talking to them about their loved one who has died…are you seeing a theme here? Many kids don’t know it’s okay to bring up the subject until they get the cue from the adults in their lives. Your loss is undoubtedly one of the most difficult things you have gone through. You need to take care of yourself first and foremost or it will be impossible to help your child. If you are struggling with your own feelings, it might be a good idea to ask another adult you trust to be the support your child needs. If anyone in your family is experiencing symptoms of severe depression or extreme variations of the above mentioned feelings, seek professional help.
Read an article on grieving children by Rea Ginsberg, LCSW
Tamm, M. & Granqvist, A. (1995) The meaning of death for children and adolescents: A phenomenographic study of drawings. Death Studies. 19, 203-222.
Holliday, J. (2002, August) A review of sibling bereavement: Impacts and Interventions. Retrieved October 12, 2004, from www.barnardos.org.uk/resources.
Oikonen, J. & Brownlee, K. (2002) Family therapy following perinatal bereavement. Family Therapy. 29(3), 125-140.