When Grief Strikes- 9 Tips for Helping Children

What Can We Do When Grief Strikes?

My heart goes out to all of those affected by the storms we have been experiencing, as well as the frightening terrorist attacks that are happening all over.  The world just doesn’t seem as safe anymore.

Tips for helping children when grief strikes from Looks Like Language
If we feel this as adults, how does it affect children? I have not been in either of these situations, fortunately, but I have experienced a great loss and am drawing on what I learned then to give these tips.

My Story

When my son was just about to enter kindergarten, my daughter was diagnosed with a fatal, degenerative genetic disease. At the same time that I was coping with my grief and watching my one year old start to deteriorate, I also had to learn what I needed to do to keep my bright, inquisitive 5 year old feeling safe and growing up as normally as possible.

It was before the internet, so I started with trips to the library to get books, reading about grief counseling for myself and with children, as well as reaching out to therapists. It was a very long, difficult 3 years watching my daughter lose all of her skills and pass on, while still working and attempting to keep a normal home life for my son.

What did I learn that can be helpful to you?

1. Be sure to keep your young child’s comfort toy, blanket or security item with you. This is a good parenting tip even when your life is calm!

2. Young children get their sense of security from the adults around them. The better you are at accepting the changes and keeping as much of their routines intact, the more likely children will continue to feel secure.

3.  Children do not grieve the way adults do. They can be playing, seemingly happily, and then run to you for comfort or to ask a question. Remember their attention spans are short, so answer questions briefly and factually.

When they have received the information they were looking for, or the hug they needed, they will run back to whatever they were doing as if it had never happened. If you see your child’s eyes glaze over or they start to fidget, they are saying 'too much.' Give the important information first!

4. If you are having problems coping, your child will, too. This is totally understandable when dealing with major issues. Just be sure to reach out and get help for yourself when you need it.

What about if you are working in the schools with children affected by drastic  events?

1. You are part of their safety net, so try to keep your school routines as close to usual as possible. When you can, laugh over the minor things you are having to do to cope with changed circumstances. Laughter is needed!

2. Listen and respond calmly and factually when students ask a question or bring up a difficult topic. If they go back to work right after, then you have met their need at the moment.

3. It is okay to respond that you don’t know, but you will try to find out for them.

4. It is okay to just acknowledge how difficult this is, and how they must be feeling. Pay attention to the child's body language, facial expression and tone of voice. Then, specifically label the emotion that they are feeling, so they have the language for it.

5. If some of your students are more withdrawn, more emotional, or just somehow not right compared to the general population, be sure to reach out to get them help. The whole family may need support to help them through this tough time.

While I wish we weren’t experiencing difficult situations, I hope these tips will help you cope! And I am so very grateful to say that my son did grow up to be a wonderful adult! I am thankful every day for my healthy children.
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