Children, just like adults, have to deal with the loss of a loved one. They go through the natural steps of anger, mourning, pain and, eventually, healing. Whether it be a family member, friend or pet, it is important to help a child understand death when it happens. Children will deal with the loss differently than one another and you may need to take different approaches.
An important aspect of helping a child deal with a loss is to always be honest. What you say to a young child will stay with them for a long time, that’s why it is vital to be completely open. A common mistake many people make, with good intentions, is to say that the person “went to sleep forever.” Children are very imaginative and this statement may cause the child to think that if they fall asleep they may not wake up. Also, saying that the deceased “got sick” or “went to the hospital” may make a child think that every time someone gets sick or goes to the hospital they will die. You can say that the person was “very sick and the doctors tried very hard to help.”
Children need to ask questions over and over again. It is not that they don’t understand your answers; it is that they are having a hard time accepting the truth. They also may think that the outcome will change if they ask one more time. Patience is invaluable when fielding questions from a child. It is good when children ask questions. Don’t be afraid that you won’t know how to answer the question. If you don’t know the answer, tell the child you don’t know, and then work together to find the answer.
Help children talk about the person who has passed and share memories together. Allow children to express their feelings and let them know there is nothing wrong with being angry or sad and it’s OK to cry. Ask them if they would like to write a note or draw a picture about the deceased. It may be easier for the child to express their feelings this way, rather than talking.
If your child is going to attend a funeral or religious ceremony, it is best to let them know what to expect beforehand. This limits the possibility of shock and confusion. Describe the room, the casket and how adults may behave, such as crying or laughing while remembering the person who has died.
If your child has discipline problems or acts out differently than they did before the death, be compassionate and let them know that you understand what they are going through and you feel the same way. Talk to your child’s doctor if that doesn’t work. He/she may have some ideas on how to help your child cope better.
Camp Erin is here to help!
Camp Erin is a grief support camp designed for children ages six to 17 who have experienced the death of a loved one. It is a traditional, fun, high-energy camp combined with grief education and emotional support.
Camp Erin will be held at Camp Kuratli in Boring, Ore. Activities begin Friday afternoon and end Sunday afternoon. This overnight camp is offered one weekend every summer.
Find out more information about Camp Erin.