I just read a short little book about grief by the Child Trauma Academy entitled A Child’s Loss: Helping Children Exposed to Traumatic Death. You can purchase this little book from iTunes or Kindle. It was only 20 pages but it gave a lot of helpful information for caregivers and a special section at the end for teachers. I thought I would just zero in on the 4 pages that were about “What can I do to help”. The booklet offers 6 thoughts of which I will summarize 4 of them.
1. Be honest, open and clear – Give children the facts regarding the death. There is no need to go into great detail but the important details should be given.
2. Do not avoid the topic when the child brings it up – In the same way as other trauma, the caregivers around the child need to be available when the child wants to talk but should avoid probing when the child does not want to talk. This may mean answering one question — it may mean struggling with a very difficult question. “Does it hurt when you are in a car wreck?” Don’t be surprised if in the middle of your struggle for the ‘right’ answer the child acts disinterested. The child may be unable to tolerate the level of emotional intensity and is coping with it by avoiding it at that point.
3. Be prepared to discuss the same details again and again – Expect to hear things from the child that seems as if he didn’t ‘hear’ you when you told him. The implications of death for the child can be more than they can handle — traumatic. The child’s responses to death of a parent, sibling or other loved one will be similar to the child’s responses to other traumatic events. This will include avoidance, sadness, and regression, anger, or frustration.
Feelings of Guilt
4. Understand that surviving children often feel guilty – A child surviving when family members die may often feel guilty and it can be very destructive and pervasive. The guilt children feel is related to the false assumptions they make about the event. An important principle in this process is that children do not know how to verbalize or express guilt in the same fashion as adults. Guilt, as expressed in children, may often be best observed in behaviors and emotions that are related to self-hatred and self-destruction.
One of the main emphases of Family Christian Counseling Center is to help children overcome traumatic events. Click on the link to learn more about how the Center helps families work through the grief associated with loss.