Nov. 19 is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
“The aim is to raise awareness about children’s bereavement in an effort to normalize the experience of loss and grief,” Bereavement Care Coordinator Ally Parker explains. “Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we try to minimize a child’s grieving process by encouraging ‘keeping active’ or ‘staying positive.’ While being active and positive are important elements in a healthy life, so is recognizing grief as a natural response to loss.”
“Rather than regarding grief as something that should be avoided because it is ‘negative’ or potentially ‘scarring,’ acknowledging the feelings associated with loss sets a child up for healthy grieving going forward,” she continued. “Talking openly with a child about grief can greatly reduce the stigma, fear and the sense of isolation that often accompanies it.”
According to the National Alliance for Grieving Children:
- Grieving is a natural human experience and impacts a child’s ongoing development and understanding of their world.
- A child’s grief is not bound by time.
- Parents, caregivers and adults in children’s lives have an opportunity to model and encourage healthy coping in children.
- Grief is experienced physically, socially, mentally, spiritually, and is influenced by a child’s physical and social environment.
- Children can cope with grief in helpful ways that enable them to grow into healthy adults.
- Children grieve in different ways at different times.
- A child’s grief is a natural reaction to loss.
- Parents, caregivers and adults help children when they provide attention, warmth and connection.
- A child’s grief is personal, individual and unique.
- Parents, caregivers and adults in children’s lives hold the power to uplift, empower and encourage children.
- Children grieve within the context of their family, culture and community.
- Children who are grieving a death are supported when they are able to connect with peers who have also experienced a death.
- Children who are grieving a death are supported when they are given space to experience and express their grief in different ways.
- Parents, caregivers, and adults help children when they prepare children for the things they might see and experience after the death.
Children and grief
Laura Basili, Ph.D., a Middlebury-based family psychologist, offers the following guidelines for children and grief:
- Children DO grieve; loss is a part of life;
- Children need permission to feel;
- Adults model grieving for children;
- Death should be acknowldeged honestly;
- Children grieve through play and behavior;
- Children rework their grief at each transition and development stage;
- Grief is a lifelong process;
- Children grieve at their own pace;
- Death usually has secondary losses;
- Children need a choice to participate in rituals.
A memorial activity for kids
A healing memorial exercise for children and families is this memory lanterns activity, “a creative way to acknowledge, honor and remember their special person,” explains Langley Hospice Society, which offers it to those in its care.
A range of supports are available locally, regionally, nationally and online including:
- Camp Knock Knock, a weekend bereavement camp for families with children who have experienced the death of a loved one, offered by UVM Health Network – Home Health & Hospice;
- UVM Medical Center’s Children’s Grief Support Group, which meets the last Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.;
- The Dougy Center, which provides general resources for families, schools and providers;
- Vermont-based Mahana Magic, supporting kids who have a parent or caregiver with cancer;
- Compassion Books, books and resources for people impacted by grief and loss;
- The National Alliance for Grieving Children.
For more information about these resources, or general questions, please contact Home Health & Hospice Bereavement Care Coordinator Ally Parker at (802) 860-4497, ext. 3405 or Allyson.Parker@UVMHomeHealth.org.