HELPING YOUR CHILD COPE WITH DEATH
By Sarah Decker, MA, LMFT
Death is one of the hardest and saddest events we must cope with throughout our lives. Whether it is expected, unexpected, an accident or with intent, we all experience a range of emotions and reactions individualized to our beliefs about death and our ability to process and cope with this event.
We, as adults, will likely find ourselves in the situation of needing to talk with a young person about death, while we are ourselves may be having a difficult time. Because it may not always be obvious young people are experiencing grief and reacting to loss there are ways you, as an adult, can identify if your child is having difficulty with the loss. There are also ways in which you can help them process their grief.
Common reactions to death for school aged children and adolescents include:
– Drop in grades
– Somatic complaints such as headaches or stomachaches
– Feeling guilty and fearing death of themselves or others
For middle school and high school death there is an understanding that death is final. Some teenagers may be able to process death at an adult level. For those who cannot it is important to speak with them and provide reassurance throughout the process of grief.
Some things to keep in mind when having these conversations include explaining death in clear, direct and honest terms in line with your child’s development level. Because children are unable to have conversations as adults do, there may be many short, reoccurring conversations around the subject of death and loss. Share your own or your family’s belief regarding death, encouraging your child to explore their own beliefs around what happens when someone dies.
Encourage your child to ask questions and answer honestly. If you do not know the answer, offer to help find the answer with them. Make sure your child knows and understands they are not responsible for the death of another and do not need to feel guilty about being unable to prevent death. Encourage your child to share their thoughts and emotions. This can be done through talking, writing, art and other avenues your child may find helpful. Share your own feelings of grief without overwhelming your child. Reassure them their pain and sadness is normal and that it may come and go over time. Encourage your child to continue to enjoy their time with friends and family and to not feel guilty or feel it is disloyal to the person that died.
If you become concerned with your child’s behavior after your child has experienced loss, please remember to utilize resources such as faith leaders, counselors or other mental health professionals. Remember each child grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Be open and honest while being receptive and not directive. Just being there for your child is the best start at helping them through their loss.
www.griefspeaks.com Helping teens cope with grief
www.whatsyourgrief.com/helping-a-teenager-deal-with-grief-2/ Helping a teenager deal with grief
Healing your grieving heart for kids 100 practical ideas. Alan D. Wolfelt PhD
Healing your grieving heart for teens journal. Alan D. Wolfelt PhD