In times of stress for children, it is crucial to help them maintain healthy and adaptive coping strategies. At these times, you might notice an increase in aches, pains, and nebulous boo boos. Appetites may markedly change. Sleep habits can shift. Stomachaches and headaches become more common. Children may act out aggression, anxiety, and sadness through their bodies. All of these symptoms are very real and should be treated as such; they are not simply ploys to garner attention.
Children are naturally drawn to stories and storytelling. Storytelling creates cohesion and fosters understanding. Allowing children the freedom to tell their stories gives them a sense of self-competence and confidence as they face challenges. By becoming authors of their own experience, children can regain a sense of control and understanding following loss. Journaling, drawing, creating and communicating with others about loss promotes healing from grief and honors the child’s relationship with that which has been lost.
If we refuse to talk to children about death, or we somehow signal that we must remain silent about loss, we are doing a disservice to the child and missing an opportunity to help them understand and make sense. Rather than explore what to avoid, let’s talk about proactive steps you can take to help your kids understand death.
Any time there is a death, you will inevitably hear (and perhaps even mutter yourself), “I just can’t believe it,” or “I can’t wrap my mind around it.” At any age, disbelief and denial are common responses to loss. It is difficult to comprehend death, and when discombobulating grief overlays our mind’s struggle to make sense of tragedy, we may find ourselves at a total loss. It is inevitable that anyone would have difficulty making meaning of death. So, how do we approach the concept of death with our children?
Although it is completely unwarranted for a child to feel guilty about the death or departure of a loved one, guilt is a common response in children. In times of loss, children need to be reassured that their love is stronger than their hate.