Children grieve so differently than adults, which is why each year Nov. 16 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, a day to help us all learn and become more aware of what grieving children need.
Making sure children who are grieving get the support they need is something Jasmine Kendrick does each day. As a children’s grief counselor, she sees daily how children and teenagers are affected by grief. Here she discusses the ways they grieve differently, as well as what adults should look out for, and much more.
What are some things people should be aware of in regards to children who are grieving?
Each situation is unique, there’s no real right or wrong way to grieve, and that there is support and resources out there. Some people don’t tend to think about the kids, they tend to overlook them because there’s usually a whirlwind of things going on. Adults are trying to figure out their own grief in a society where we don’t like to talk about it, we don’t like to feel things, so kids are often overlooked, or shunned away from it, because no one wants them to be upset, or they don’t think they understand it. But kids are people too, and they do get it.
How do kids grieve differently than adults?
It’s definitely an ebb and flow. It can be very sporadic. It can come out of nowhere through grief bursts and things like that, different little triggers that they might see. Sometimes they might become very withdrawn, or they’ll act out. They’ll be angry and don’t know why. A lot of it is they don’t know how to regulate these emotions, but they don’t even know what these emotions are either. They’re just feeling all of these things.
They know that there’s a loss, and usually, they know that there’s an absence of something, but they’re not quite sure as to what that means. Like, your smaller ones will think “Oh, so and so’s coming back after so long,” or “If I do something really well, and I get good grades, they’ll come back, they have to.” It’s almost like a give and take reward system. They’re trying to understand, you’re trying to teach them and tell them and understand, no, this person isn’t coming back, and they have to process that.
A case in point, a new client of mine lost his father recently, and at school, he had all these photos up because he was student of the month…he had a bunch up with him and his dad. Then when it was time to take all those photos down, he just lost it, and it’s kind of like, another way of taking something away. It’s something as simple as just removing pictures from a wall, it has a lot of significance. So, there’s just so many different ways that it can manifest itself for these little guys.
Do you have any general tips for how an adult can best help a child who’s grieving?
Really just follow their lead, see how they react. My biggest thing is that honesty is always the best policy, telling them what they need to know in a manner that works for them. Paying attention to the developmental, cognitive, wherever your child is… give them all of the information that they need, so that they don’t pick it up from somewhere else.
Also allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of them. A lot of times what kids will do, is they’ll hold everything in because they don’t want to upset mom or dad, because, for all the reasons, mom’s crying or whatever, and they don’t want to see their parents or whomever upset, so they hold it in. And honestly, it’s much better to just let them know it is okay to feel all of these things. It’s normal and it’s healthy.
Are there any resources you would recommend to someone who’s helping a child who’s grieving?
- The Dougy Center’s Grief Out Loud podcast
- What’s Your Grief website
- National Alliance for Children’s Grief
The Angela Hospice Grief Care team offers one-on-one counseling for children and teens who have experienced a loss, as well as a children’s Creative Connections grief support group, which meets monthly. For more information, please call 734.953.6058 or visit our Grief Care page here.