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To help kids with grief, understand their perspective

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Grief is always difficult for adults, especially at the holidays, but it can be especially difficult for children. A child’s grieving process is different from an adult’s; each views death and loss from a different perspective.

Although grief is most often associated with the death of a loved one, many experiences can cause grief. Divorce, illness, financial loss, professional setback or job loss, the death of a dream, even a loved one’s moving far away can be sources of genuine grief.

Children process information in small amounts and begin to grieve slowly. They also grieve and re-grieve a loss throughout their lives. A child’s grieving process is usually sporadic and more physical and less verbal than an adult’s. A child may ask a question and then run out to play.

The child’s process also is reflective of a parent’s response to the loss. If a child does not see a parent or adult grieve, he may feel that he cannot grieve outwardly. He feels pressure to “be strong.” Too often, children are not given the opportunity to express their feelings. The emotions generated after a loss may result in excess energy, which manifests itself in “acting out” behavior.

A child’s physical responses to grief may be much the same as those of an adult. Children and adults can experience fatigue, headaches, stomachaches, dizziness and the inability to sleep. Children also may exhibit regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting and separation anxiety.

Like adults, children may have trouble concentrating and making decisions, and they may think about the loss continually and even want to withdraw from seeing or being with people. Because grief is an emotional response, a child may experience a variety of emotions, including fear, anxiety, denial, anger, sadness, loneliness and guilt.

Children usually are frightened when things happen they do not understand and when daily routines are interrupted. Children also have a fear of abandonment and wonder if someone else important is going to leave them as well.

Children may feel responsible for the loss. They worry that they said, thought or wished something that caused the loss to happen.

Be willing to answer your children’s questions several times. Hearing answers repeatedly helps children process their feelings and understanding of a death or other loss.

In the death of a loved one or someone close to your family, the task of teaching children about death can include:

1. Talk about death before it happens. Point out things in nature that are dead. Talk about the difference between dead bugs and live bugs.

2. Give children accurate information using simple, honest language. Avoid common euphemisms about death, such as “She’s gone to sleep.”

3. Clarify the meaning of rituals such as funerals and caskets and phrases children will hear, such as “passed away.”

4. Include the child in talking and remembering.

5. Do not hide your own feelings of sadness.

6. Attend the funeral, if appropriate. Children 6 years old and older should be allowed to attend if they want. Joining family friends allows children to express grief and gain support from others.
Adapted from the article, “Surviving the Holidays?” in the December issue ParentLife, a magazine published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Subscription information can be obtained by sending e-mail to [email protected] or calling customer service at 1-800-458-2772.

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