Westport Family Counseling General bereavement group meets Tuesday evenings (203) 227-4555 xt 5
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Tips for talking to children and supporting children who have experienced loss:
From former WYS Director, Michelle Albright, PhD:
Keep the lines of communication open. The most important thing you can do for your children is to let them know you are willing and able to talk and listen. Talk to your children and let them know they can share feelings, and ask questions. However, don’t be surprised (or overly concerned!) if children initially don’t want to talk; not unlike adults, children sometimes need time to process what they are hearing and feeling. Rather than forcing a discussion, it’s best to let your children guide the conversation. As difficult as it may be for parents, children respect and respond best to the truth. Honesty is key, so give accurate and developmentally appropriate information about what has happened. And it’s okay to let children know when and if you don’t have an answer or want to wait and think or get more information before providing a response.
Let children know it’s okay to feel anything and everything. Children (and adults!) respond to grief and loss in many different ways with many different feelings. Acknowledge that normal responses to grief and loss include feeling upset, angry, numb, confused, and scared. Children learn how to cope with grief and loss from the people around them, and it’s appropriate to show emotion after losing a friend or family member. It’s okay to share your own feelings with your children as long as you can modulate them and they don’t overwhelm or overpower others.
Monitor your children’s reactions and your own. Grief affects our bodies as well as our minds, and children and adults may experience shifts in behavior, appetite, mood, sleep, and energy related to feelings of sadness and anxiety. Some individuals may have trouble sleeping, eating, or paying attention. Others may have headaches or stomachaches, or lose interest in things that are usually enjoyable. All of these are part of the normal experience of grieving. However be on the lookout for more abrupt and intense shifts in mood and behavior. And don’t ignore your own reactions because you are so concerned about your child’s.
Identify appropriate outlets and sources of support. Although there is no universal formula for coping with grief, most children and adults do find effective ways to deal with their feelings. However, no one can do it alone and we all need support from friends and family. Encourage children to express emotions in appropriate ways and seek comfort from their friends and other trusted adults.
Try to keep routines without being rigid. Normalcy and order are often comforting for children who have experienced an unexpected loss or tragedy. Try to keep to typical rituals and routines, however remain flexible in response to your children’s moods and behaviors. For example, if your child is having difficultly concentrating while trying to complete homework give them an extra break or the opportunity for some activity or exercise to vent some physical and emotional energy.
Be there for each other. Children of any and all ages need the comfort of parents when the world around them seems unsettled. You don’t need to hover or crowd, but do let your children know you are there and available for extra hugs, extra time, and extra care.
TALKING ABOUT TRAGEDY & TRAUMA
HERE is a helpful article from Child Mind Institute with guidelines for discussing frightening news with children.
▪ The Dougy Centerprovides support to children, teens, young adults and families grieving the loss of a friend or family member; they have two brief handouts on How to Help a Grieving Teen and How to Help a Grieving Child that parents may find particularly helpful. Help for Kids and Help for Teens
▪ HERE is a NYTimes post about how adolescents cope with grief and tragedy that is great for parents of tweens and teens
▪ The National Association for School Psychologists has a wonderful guide on how to help children with special needs cope with traumatic events. This guide includes specific strategies for children with Autism; Cognitive Limitations; Learning Disabilities; Visual, Hearing or Physical Limitations; and Emotional or Behavioral Disorders. Find it HERE