Children and Grief
Helping children cope and understand death is just one of the many challenges that come with the loss of a loved one.
Often the question arises, “Should I take the kids to the funeral?” There is no right answer to this question. What kids understand, and how much information they can handle depends on their age, developmental level and previous experiences with death.
Including children in funerals whether through attendance or other participation helps them to accept the reality of the death and begin the process of letting go.
Only you and your child can decide what is right for them. You may want to start with very basic explanations of what the funeral or memorial service will be like. For example you can start by saying “A funeral is a chance for family and friends who loved your [brother, grandma, father] to come together and support each other. We may share stories, laugh, and even cry.” Another good guide for explaining this is using who, what, where, when and why. This is also a time to share any spiritual beliefs you have about death and explain the meaning of the rituals or traditions they may see. After you have answered all their questions about the funeral it is then appropriate to ask them if they would want to go. It is also important that if the child chooses not to attend the funeral, they must not be pressured or made to feel guilty.
Most children at some point will experience the death of a relative or friend. Very commonly your first reaction is to shield them from grief. This is natural. You may feel as though you are protecting them from the pain that you are personally experiencing. Unfortunately this is not the healthiest thing for the child. Children who aren’t able to cope openly with grief can develop lasting emotional and developmental problems. Instead of trying to avoid the sadness, we have to help our children as they experience it in a healthy way.
If you and your child decide that it is better for them not to attend there are still ways that they can be involved. You can ask them if they would like to make something that could be included in the casket, or maybe a letter to be read at the service. You could also take pictures and be able to walk through the service with them after the fact in the comfort of your own home so that they can see what it looked like and feel as though they were a part of it.
If you think your own grief might prevent you from helping your child at this difficult time, ask a friend or family member whom you trust to be the support person for your child during the service. Choose someone your child is comfortable with and who wouldn’t mind leaving the service with the child if they needed to.
Many parents worry about letting their kids witness their own grief. It is important for you to know that allowing your child to see your pain shows that crying is a natural reaction to loss. And it can make kids more comfortable sharing their own feelings.
Finally remember that kids appreciate choices as much as adults do. This is a time of sadness and confusion for them. Giving them the information that they can handle, as well as providing choices for them, allows them to feel as though they are a valued member of the family and that their opinion counts, even during this difficult time.
- Coping Through Transitions
- Sesame Workshop
- Comfort Zone Camp: Comfort Zone Camp is a nonprofit bereavement camp that holds weekend camps for children (age 7-17) and young adults (age 19-25) who have experienced the death of a parent, guardian, or sibling. Traditional fun camp activities are mixed with one-on-one mentoring, age-specific support groups, peer support, safe risk taking, and trust-building activities. Camps are free of cost to participants, and are held year-round throughout the country. For additional information please contact our Virginia Headquarters at 866-488-5679 or go to our website: www.comfortzonecamp.org