Supporting Kids in Grief

Peggy Green - Thee Grief Specialist

by Peggy Green of Thee Grief Specialist

I posted this on my Facebook page on May 22, 2021, “It has been 30 years since my sweet daughter, Courtney Rochelle Green, became an angel. She is my first child angel. Connor my son, followed her in 2018. I know they are watching after me and their sisters.”

It was to share that it has been 30 years since my baby girl has been gone. It is surreal how time has flown by and now that my son Connor is with her, it is even more dream like.

My niece who was 16 when Courtney died responded to my post with this “This was an event that just about broke me as a teenager. Courtney was “my baby”. She was my world My favorite. I don’t speak of her much but she is often in my thoughts….”

When I read her response, it shook me to the core. I did not realize 30 years ago the ripple affect my daughter’s passing had on my niece. I was so focused on my grief that I was oblivious to her pain. I am saddened to hear she did not have adult support to process this loss. This was the first time I heard this, 30 years later.

As an incredibly young child, I remember the fear I had around death, dying and cemeteries. When I would visit my grandparents, we had to drive by a cemetery. I would duck down in the back seat and hold my breath. I did not know what was in a cemetery, I just know it freaked me out. I could not look at the fancy iron gates and fence, or those things called headstones. I even held my breath while we drove past because I thought whatever was there, I would catch. I did not want to catch it. Nothing good could come from that creepy looking place.

It was only after losing, Frieda, my “bonus mom” at the age of 16 that I learned what really lay behind those gates. I also remember the tears, grief, and loneliness I had. My mom and I rarely talked about it even though Frieda was her best friend. I made it through it on my own.

I can now laugh about my reaction to the cemetery. I was also able to navigate the loss of many other family members. However, I know that kids today are different. The grief process has changed .

Because I missed the opportunity to help me niece, a teenager at the time of Courtney’s passing, I thought this would be a good place to support other moms help their children with the loss of a sibling, friend or relative. This can also include a divorce, change of homes, and pet. Grief is grief to a child, no matter the loss of something or someone they love.

A child may ask about death, grief and become curios about their own mortality. Death is a difficult concept for children to grasp. Take the time to explain what it is and answer questions.

Explain that it is natural for humans and pets to die. We are not meant to live forever.  The more you can accept this yourself, the better the child will respond to your explanation.

It is part of the Circle of Life as so well portrayed in The Lion King. You might even consider using this movie as a talking point with your child. This was a movie my kids watched all the time, and they had a grasp of what it meant to lose a loved one.

Include there are different reasons someone dies. They could suffer from an illness. Be sure to stress the illness is not contagious and alleviate fears that they will die from the illness. Sometimes bad things happen that we have no control over. Sometimes accidents take a loved one. Do your best to explain in age-appropriate language what happened. Remember, kids are smart and can and will read right through dishonesty even if the intention is to protect them. In the long run, lies will not help.

It is good to talk about the grief process. It hurts and a child may feel sad about what has happened. The absence can leave a big hole in their heart. It is good to explain things with an analogy comparing it to skinning your knee. It takes time for your knee to heal but the pain becomes less and less. It is the same way with loss. It does not mean we forget or stop missing the people or things who are gone. It is natural to resume living their life, be happy and remember with good memories their loved one.

Kids may start to question their own mortality or that of others they are close to. “Will my mom or dad die?”, “Will I die?’ Allow them to ask such questions and be honest. Do it without creating fear. Yes, it will happen someday. Talking about it will help them not only with the current circumstance but understanding death is part of life. Death is not to be feared.

Since children spend so much time at school, I want to focus on how parents, teachers and administrators can team up to best support a child who is experiencing grief. When a child experiences loss, it is critical to have constant, consistent communication between parents and school administration.

Outlined below are some ideas on how to create the partnership for the benefit of the child. Think of it as an Individual Child Grief Program. I am coining this as an ICGP. Keep in mind that grief comes from a variety of losses, and this can be used in multiple scenarios. An ICGP for grief:

1.     Parents need to inform the school that the child is experiencing loss and grieving.

2.     Have parents/teacher/admin become a team for the benefit of the child.

3.     Create a safe space where the child can retreat to in the event of wave of grief.

4.     Establish a code word or sign that the student can convey to teachers they need to be excused from class without being questioned.

5.     Communicate with the parents this was an “event” so they can help the child express their feelings and decipher what happened.

6.     If the child feel it would be beneficial, have them designate a buddy who can be with him in his time of need. 

Here is a great resource to help understand from a child’s perspective,

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