When children lose a close family member or friend, they typically react and grieve very differently compared to adults. Children will often go through two major challenges when grieving: figuring out how to process the trauma and loss of a loved one, and coping with the impact and changes the death makes in their lives.
At Sytsema, we are here for you and can offer assistance in helping your child through grief. First, it’s important to understand the ways in which children grieve differently than adults so you can feel prepared to offer the comfort, love, and care they need. We’ve written this blog to walk you through what you might expect with children and grief and how you can help your child in the healing process.
- Children don’t often express their emotions right away.
Most children don’t have a strong understanding of death, so they don’t know where to start when it comes to expressing how they feel. They will often go through feelings of confusion, sadness, anger, or depression, but they just aren’t sure how to let it all out or talk with you about it. Adults have a full understanding of death when they lose a loved one, so it’s easier for them to comprehend the situation, cry, feel upset, and express their feelings to a close relative or friend.
Every child has his or her own grief timeline. Give your children the time they need and let them come to you when they’re ready to talk. The most helpful thing you can do is be there to listen, remind them that everything’s going to be okay, and offer comfort when they need it. When children do talk about their loss, they often tell the same story over and over again. That’s okay. It’s important to let children express their emotions and tell you everything they are feeling from the heart.
- Children often feel like they’ve lost their sense of security.
Through our years of providing grief counseling, we’ve come to understand that children need to feel secure and know they are going to be okay before they can mourn the loss of their loved one. It’s important to address both the trauma and the loss, starting with the trauma work first. After you’ve re-established their sense of security, they can then feel comfortable and safe enough to begin grieving.
It’s normal for adults who’ve lost a loved one, to sometimes feel a little insecure, too. However, they’re able to recognize the reality that eventually everything will be okay and that there are resources available to help them through their time of grief. This isn’t always the case for children, which is exactly why they need you to instill a sense of security for them. Reassure them that they are safe, you’ll take care of them, and together you’ll get through this difficult time.
You can do this by continually encouraging them that everything will be okay (re-establishing their security again and again), keeping a balanced routine, and reminding them that there is hope and they will feel better and whole again.
- Children encounter different barriers to grief.
Children face a whole different battle when they go through the loss of a loved one. There are a variety of barriers they often face that adults don’t, such as being shielded from death, having never experienced death, taking on a desire to protect adults and loved ones, feelings of instability in the family, and forced “hyper-maturity.”
The best thing you can do as a parent is to be there and work through each barrier one step at a time. Often, certain interventions will help children grieve in a healthy way. An example is participating in activities that build self-esteem and celebrating their progress. Children love to feel accomplished, so encouraging them and reminding them they will get through this difficult time offers a great sense of comfort and hope.
Other ideas to help your children throughout the grieving process include:
Encouraging them to remember and honor their loved one by making memory pillows or books, writing poems, planting a tree, saying a prayer, or setting aside special time to celebrate and reflect on memories. Your child may go through a rollercoaster of emotions when losing a loved one, but knowing how to overcome the barriers and being a light in their darkness will help them with the healing process.
Children mourn not just the death of their loved one, but the changes that death brings about in their world. Your goal as a parent isn’t necessarily to get them back to the way they were before, but to help them adjust to who they are now that their loved one is gone. Having a stronger understanding of how children grieve differently than adults will set you on the right path to guiding them through the grieving process. If you would like to meet with our staff for further help, don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact us at Sytsema Funeral & Cremation Services by visiting our website or calling our Muskegon location at 231-726-5210 or our Grand haven location at 616-842-6100.