Children’s Grief Awareness Day is November 21 this year.* Please wear blue to show your support for grieving children!
Children grieve as deeply as adults, but they lack the maturity and experience to identify and put words to their feelings. Their needs and attention-demanding behaviors may be overlooked or misunderstood by their own surviving family members, friends, teachers or other school officials.
Here are some things NOT to say to a grieving child (of any age):
- “You’re the man [or lady] of the house now.” This is a cruel burden to place on a child, especially one who is grieving!
- “You need to take care of your [surviving parent or siblings] now.” While compassion for one’s family is worthwhile, the job of a child is to be a child, not a head of household. Children (especially older teens) will resent being told what they should do, especially if it is an area they are already considering on their own.
- “God needed him/her more than you did.” Really?! To grieving children, no one (especially not an all-powerful God) could “need” their loved ones more than they do!
- “God took him/her to heaven.” To very young children already facing traumatic upheaval, the notion of God (whom they cannot see) randomly “taking” people can be frightening rather than comforting. To older children, whose fledgling faith may be quavering in their bereavement, such statements can prick rebellion rather than consolation. Allow children’s immediate caretakers to address all faith-related aspects of grieving unless they specifically ask for your input.
- “At least you had your [parent, sibling, relative, friend] for X [years, months, days]. That’s longer than some …” Instead of acknowledging the significance of a child’s loss, this (and every other “at least” statement) demeans the reason the child is mourning.
- “Don’t cry” or “He/she wouldn’t want you to be sad.” Crying is an essential part of grieving, and sadness is a natural response to separation from loved ones. Suppressing such emotional expression can be harmful.
Here are HELPFUL things to say to a bereaved child (of any age):
- “It’s okay to feel ____.” Fill in the blank with whatever emotions you see the child displaying. Naming the emotions will help the child identify and label otherwise overwhelming feelings. Being angry, sad, confused, frustrated, afraid, and resentful are all normal responses to grief. A child also needs “permission” to feel happy and optimistic about things, even while grieving. Experiencing and enjoying moments of play are an important part of processing difficult feelings!
- “Would you like to talk about your [friend, sibling, parent, grandparent, etc.]?” Children take their behavioral cues from the adults around them. However, family members are likely to handle their collective grief in individual ways. The bereaved–including children–should never be forced to discuss their absent loved ones, but they should be offered opportunities to do so.
For more on how you can support Children’s Grief Awareness Day, visit the website: http://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/cgad/index.shtml
You can also show your support by visiting and clicking “Like” on the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ChildrensGriefAwarenessDay?fref=ts
Tweet awareness: #CGADHOPE
*Children’s Grief Awareness Day is held the third Thursday each November (one week before Thanksgiving) as a way to build awareness for the special needs of grieving children, particularly during the holiday season.