Processing grief is hard for anyone. Helping kids process grief can be even more of a challenge. Every human processes grief in their own unique way. There may be stages of grief or there may be similarities in our grief yet it is our own and unique to us. This is just as true for children.
Helping kids process their own grief can be a little bit of a guessing game at times. Some kids are very curious and sensitive. Some cry and show outward displays of understanding death or that they are experiencing grief. In contrast it is not uncommon for children to not have much of an emotional response or not truly understand the finality of death. A lot of this is dependent on their age or even how much they have experienced and talked about loss as well as other factors.
5 Ways to Help Kids Process Grief
Reading picture books about grief
Children love to sit down with a parent or teacher and get lost in a good picture book. The bright illustrations and fun rhyming words. I think many of us can look back on childhood and recall a book that had an impact on them. There are a lot of amazing children’s books that help walk children and adults alike through grief. It creates an opportunity to open up conversation about death and loss. It is a great way to get kids processing their own grief.
Play or art therapy (alternate forms of therapy)
When we think of therapy the first thing that comes to mind is often “talk therapy”. Talk therapy is a great way to process grief, for some. Often kids have a harder time verbalizing feelings. Using alternative types of therapy can be really beneficial for children. Play therapy, art therapy or animal/horse therapy are some other options. They may create a more engaging environment for a child to open up.
Provide opportunities to connect with others
When people experience loss a common phrase often heard is, “call me if you need anything”. People rarely call because it can feel overwhelming to ask for what we need when we are not even sure ourselves.
Now imagine children being expected to “call if you need me”. Here is the reality, there is no “if”, they need you and others to support their healing. They may not know what to ask, how to ask or even that they should be asking something. Create a support system, friends, family therapist and make them available and create the opportunities for the kiddos to connect with someone regularly.
Keep the kids active
Kids are active by nature. Kids love to run and play. Making sure that kids remain active by swimming, running,jumping and exploring. All of these can be therapeutic on their own. The exercise and physical activity is so healthy and can bring a sense of normalcy to children who have experienced loss. Take the kids to a park and let them run free. Go on a nature hunt or a canoe ride. Whatever they enjoy doing creates a space where they get those endorphins flowing and let them release some of the burden of their loss.
It is hard to know how much to talk about death with children. Do we tell details or do we create a story to protect their hearts and innocence. It can be a very fine line and should be determined based on each family’s values and beliefs. While following those guidelines I think it is important to be honest with your kids. Don’t give them all the gruesome details but to be truthful about what is happening will help them be able to process their own grief.
Struggling with your own grief? Find more grief support here.