Supporting Kids with Grief: The Basics
National Sibling Day is April 10th, and we have been focusing on siblings who are separated due to medical treatment as we fundraise for sibling support gift boxes for families staying at Ronald McDonald House.
We are also thinking about the kids and teens who have lost a sibling, and want to extend our love and care to them. Here are some reminders for supporting children and teens with grief and loss:
Talking about grief, loss and death with children is important; even when it is uncomfortable for us. We can enlist the help of other loving adults in our lives if talking about it activates our own grief.
Children's understanding of death changes over time as they grow and mature and their understanding of complex concepts changes. It is important to revisit significant losses to check for misunderstandings, even if a loss happened a long time ago. This is especially important for a loss in a child's immediate family, or if a loss happened when a child was young (0-10 years old) as their young and creative brains may have "filled in the blanks" with information that is actually false and maybe even upsetting.
Acknowledging a young person’s loss (even one that is a long time past) by saying or texting something to them, sending a card or giving a gift on a special date, such as siblings day, father’s day, mother’s day, a birthdate, or the anniversary of a death, is a meaningful way to show them that they are important, cared for, and valued when they are grieving.
Grief lasts a lot longer than you think. Sometimes people believe that grief dissipates over time and are surprised when their people in their lives are “still” grieving long after a death. But losing a loved one can hurt for a lifetime, with waves of grief, and also happiness, sadness, busyness, stress, and regular mundane life, coming and going like waves on a shore. The death of a significant family member can leave a hole that is felt on each milestone or season without them.
Talking about a child's loved one is a wonderful way to show them that they are important and loved, and that their love and connection can continue to grow. Share your favourite memories, stories or photos, say their name, and ask a child or teen about how they remember their person. Regular rituals such as celebrating a loved ones birthday, or lighting a candle for them on an important holiday, or including them in symbolic ways in regular family events can help them feel close when life feels hard.