Even though death is ultimately a fact of life, it can be hard for anyone to experience this kind of loss, let alone a child. Death can be a hard concept for children to understand. Not only can the concept of death be difficult for young children to grasp in general, but also the feelings and emotions that accompany the subsequent grief only add to the stress and confusion. Helping children cope with death is a difficult process that involves empathizing with the child and making an effort to meet them where they are in their process of grief and understanding.
Of all the children in America, around 15 percent of them will experience the death of a family member or sibling. Even though divorce may be the first event that comes to mind when thinking of a traumatic loss for a child because of its relative frequency, the death of a parent or sibling is something that many children have experienced.
Coping with the death of a parent
It is a profound loss for a child to experience the death of a parent. For the youngest children, the process of grieving can start with denial. The child may not be able to understand the concept of death and its implications, even to the point of disbelief that the loved one is gone. The grieving process can also be seen in feelings of guilt or responsibility for the death of the loved one. Young children can also make attempts to search for the loved one in an effort to find them and bring them back.
All of these different behaviors can be seen as parts of the classic five stages of grief; however, it is not possible for children to recognize these in themselves and process through them on their own. Grief is a very confusing feeling, even when there is a process through which to view it. For a child, coping with the death of a parent is especially difficult, as other members of the family are in the process of grieving as well.
How to help a child
One of the best things that can be done in helping a child deal with death is providing a listening ear and helping him or her cope with thoughts and feelings. Being a source of stability in a child’s life can do a great deal in helping a child cope with death. Whether you are a parent, relative or teacher, being an adult figure in a child’s life who is ready and willing to listen can be a huge help.
It is important to meet a child where he or she is in the process of expressing his or her feelings, rather than trying to force the child into a mold that you or someone else may have in mind. Everyone deals with grief in different ways, especially children. Engaging children at their level is one of the most important parts of helping them through this process. What may be effective in helping a 16-year-old coping with the death of a parent would likely be completely inappropriate for a kindergartener.
How Rainbows for All Children can help
Rainbows for All Children offers a program that can help kids through the process of grieving the loss of a parent. It is effective to offer programming to children that will meet them at a level that is appropriate for their age group. The program is offered to children at no charge as a way for them to process through their emotions and grief alongside other children feeling similar feelings of loss. Alumni can speak to the potential for growth and healing that can come from the program. To find out more about Rainbows for All Children programming in your area, click here.