Healing Methods: Working with Children – By Patricia Bubash, Professional Counselor
Adults often are not always aware of the emotions children are having upon the death of a loved one, friend, relative or even the family pet. Grief manifests different in everyone but perhaps most noticeably in children. Children do not always exhibit what they are feeling. They might not cry or talk about their feelings, but they may act out with anger, silence or withdrawal.
In my years as a school counselor receiving a call from a concerned parent with a grieving child was not unusual. One year, in particular, began with a number of second-graders coming to tell me about the death of a grandparent. They were beginning their school year with a significant loss – the loss of a special person. Students who were vocal with their grief were quicker to work through their emotions, get into the routine of school, and move along with life. It was the kids who didn’t come to talk to me, the ones whose parents called me to say, “My daughter (or my son) is having trouble sleeping and studying – she/he is withdrawn from friends and family.”
Fortunately, there are many children’s books to be found in the library, or on line that may help when it comes to talking to your children. I have found sharing pictures, sharing memories, sharing a spiritual belief, are the most effective methods in helping a child work through a loss. Death is a reality of life that we all have to face, and with the right words and the right approach, a child can be comforted and will be able accept what has changed in his or her world.
Suggestions for helping your child with their grief:
Share pictures: Let them talk about the person, relative, or pet. Students would tell me funny stories, relay activities enjoyed together, and remember the good times they had experienced. Through this kind of sharing activity, laughter, positive thoughts, and feelings of comfort would transcend the sadness. As we went through the photos, I would say, “Our memories are what we have, forever, to let us know this person is always with us. Whenever we begin to miss them, we can always go into our mind’s file of memories – and remember all the good stuff.”
Write letters, cards or notes: Writing a message validates that this person or pet existed. It is a reassuring way of acknowledging that the love remains even thought our loved one is not physically with us. Taking these written messages to the cemetery and leaving them on the grave can also be a comfort.
Counseling: Check to see if the counselor at your child’s school facilitates a support group for children experiencing loss. Typically, there is something in place because educators know a child who is emotionally distraught has difficulty with concentrating on their studies. Providing an outlet for them to work through the loss benefits both student and teacher. If there is no such support system, seek it outside the school. There is plenty of help available.
Be Honest: Give your children an honest explanation of death: It is part of the natural order of our existence. Having a spiritual support through a church, synagogue or temple provides another source for understanding and acceptance of loss.
Patricia Bubash received her M.Ed. in Counseling from the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Working with students and families has been her true calling for over thirty years. For more than twenty years she has presented workshops at the community college on a variety of topics relating to parenting issues, self-esteem and issues relative to divorce. Patricia is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Missouri and recently, became a Stephens Minister. Volunteerism, writing and family are most significant in her life.