This post is part of San Diego Hospice’s grief series for caregivers, adults and children experiencing a loss. This series will be updated monthly. Let us know about any specific grief and loss topics that are of interest to you.
Children who are touched by a loss often face unique challenges. Not only do they struggle to articulate their feelings with words, there are additional factors such as their age, culture, developmental stage, cognitive, and language ability, that can influence their grieving process. Many adults struggle to understand the grief process of a child due to these factors and may feel unsure about how to best support them.
In an effort to raise awareness, provide support and highlight resources to help the millions of grieving children across the nation—and thousands of grieving children in our own community – the third Thursday of November is set aside as Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Parents, guardians, and anyone in a grieving child’s life, are encouraged to keep the following tips in minds as they help a child navigate through their grief journey:
- Address your own grief in a healthy manner
This will equip you to better support your child and serve as a positive role model
- Consider your own experience with grief as a child.
Reflect on how adults supported your grief process when you were a child, whether you were impacted by a death or a non-death loss, like moving to a new school. Now, as the adult, you have the opportunity to repeat these lessons or lead your child through a different coping experience.
- Stay in touch with your child’s teachers, coaches and other mentors
Oftentimes, his/her behavior and interactions during times you are not with them will provide you clues on how he/she is coping with the loss.
- Provide time and a quiet space for you and your child.
Encourage your child to talk, ask questions, read books about grief and loss or draw pictures. Repeat these moments for as long as you think it’s beneficial.
- Practice open and honest communication with your child.
Stay true to your own culture, beliefs, and comfort level. And, when you don’t have an answer to your child’s question, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
A common question asked by a parent or guardian of child who has been impacted by a loss is, “When should I be worried?” The following characteristics are not typically associated with the normal grief process. If your child is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, it’s time to speak with a professional immediately:
- Suicidal ideation and/or plans with intentions to hurt others
- Preoccupation with guilt and/or a sense of worthlessness
- Depressive symptoms that look like significant “slowing down” of activities (i.e. sleeping too much, unable to complete daily activities, such as brushing teeth.)
As the parent of a grieving child, remember that you are not alone. The National Alliance for Grieving Children can provide education and support on a national level while local support resources include the San Diego Access and Crisis Line (1-800-479-3339), 211 San Diego and The Center for Grief Care and Education (CGCE), which has three programs specifically designed for children and their families:
- Grief Street: A Family Bereavement Program: a free eight-week program that serves the needs of children 4 through 18 and their caregivers. Contact a CGCE counselor at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 619-278-6480 to schedule a pre-session meeting.
- Camp Erin San Diego: a free weekend camp created and funded by The Moyer Foundation that combines traditional, high-energy, camp activities with grief support and education.
- Family or individual counseling: meet with a counselor who can address the unique needs of your family, using play, art,and traditional talk therapy
For more information on grief support services in San Diego, visit: www.sdhospice.org/support-groups.