There are some definite myths and facts about grief and its effect on young children. In the past most adults have felt they should discuss death or loss with young children. Often children were discouraged from asking questions or they were given fairy tale-like answers. Sometimes boys were told that crying was a sign of weakness. For many children death and loss was a time of confusion, isolation or even shame. Below are few true/false questions to help parents who want to know how they can handle this natural part of life that does affect their young child.
True or False:
"Young children may not experience changes in their behavior due to loss." FALSE
Grief is a healthy and very human response for every human, including young children, to have when they lose someone or something. Loss comes in many forms. Children may feel the loss of moving away from home, death or loss of a pet, disability of a parent or grandparent. Separation from a parent or older sibling or the death of someone close such as a teacher, babysitter or an unborn family member, can also be significant losses for young children.
True or False:
"All types of losses have basically the same reaction and recovery time." FALSE
Death of a loved one is probably the greatest loss we experience whether we are young or old. It has the most impact on our lives and it takes longer for the pain to subside. Initially, young children may seem indifferent to the experience of loss because they are not quite sure of what is happening or why. Nevertheless, they will have definite feelings and reactions to their inability to see or do things with the person or experience they lost.
True or False:
"Even if a child is young it is important for him or her to express their feelings of loss." TRUE
Sometimes parents think they will make their children feel worse if they talk to him or her about their feelings of grief. Children may not fully understand everything that is going on but it is important for them to express feelings of loss especially to their parent(s). Here are some parenting tips to help kids share their feelings:
- Draw pictures or use stuffed animals and even sock puppets to help your child express their feelings of loss. Kids can use the objects to share their feelings.
- Share stories of past happy experiences to encourage healing.
- Read an age appropriate book with your child about loss and discuss it.
- Offer opportunities for your child to share their feelings.
- Answer questions honestly and briefly.
- Be available to spend quality time with your child.
- Use patience whenever possible and don't be afraid to share your feelings.
- Seek professional help if certain feelings or behavior (shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression, loneliness or hope) get too overwhelming for you and your child.
- Allow your child to be involved in making up new routines and keeping old ones.
For additional advice, help and resources on parenting through a crisis situation, contact the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. Trained counselors are available 24/7.