September 23, 2013

Helping Children Deal with the Loss of a Loved One

I have had to deal with my share of ups and downs throughout life, just like everyone else has, however, I was very fortunate in the fact that I didn’t experience the loss of a close loved one until I was a teenager. As a parent, now I can appreciate how big that blessing was for my parents. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is hard, but helping young children deal with the loss is even harder as they don’t have the ability to fully comprehend the situation and what it means.

About two years ago my grandmother  passed away, making my son only three at the time. While he didn’t know his great-grandmother extremely well, he knew her well enough that I had to help him understand the situation as best as I could. Below are a few tips that I have for anyone with young children who have (or may in the future) experienced the loss of a loved one.
1.      Answer their questions. Sometimes it can be hard to answer all the questions our little ones “throw” our way, but in the event of the death of a loved one, it is important for parents to patiently answer their kids’ questions. A lot of young children don’t understand that death is final and they don’t realize that they won’t get to see their loved one again. Therefore, do not get frustrated if your kids ask you when you will get to visit this loved one. They may ask this question on a daily or weekly basis for a month or two – or however long it takes them to fully understand what it means to pass away. Just be patient with them and answer their questions.  

2.      Suggest writing a letter or drawing a picture. If your little one is having an especially difficult time understanding the loss of a loved one and misses them terribly, then suggest writing a letter or drawing a picture for the loved one. If this happens before the funeral, you can request that the letter/drawing be placed in the casket with the loved one to ensure he/she will receive it. Or, you can take the letter and promise to mail it to heaven for your little one. While the loved on won’t really get the letter, your little one doesn’t have to know that. Writing letters and drawing pictures often helps children deal with the feelings they’re experiencing when they don’t have the words to verbally express themselves.
 
3.      Talk about the special memories made with the loved one. As time passes, it’s easy to stop talking about a loved one who has passed away. For many of us, it’s how we deal with the loss because sometimes it can be painful to think about all the memories we have with the loved one. However, for children, it’s important that they feel comfortable talking about these memories. This helps children feel close to the person again and keeps the memories “alive,” which is especially important for children who have lost a parent, sibling or even a close grandparent.
Death is never an easy thing to deal with, but it’s something that we all have to deal with at one time or another. When young children are involved, it’s important that the adults in their lives take the time to help them heal too. Children grieve just like adults do, but they often don’t have the ability to express their feelings. Therefore, we need to help them.