One of the main purposes of this blog is to equip parents with ideas and tips about the positive actions they can take in a sometimes overwhelming world. We are here to promote parent/guardian resilience and child resilience. In that vein we wanted to touch on the difficult topic of death because the thinking has changed over the years, making it a perfect topic for a KNOWLEDGE post.
The good news is that we can help children who are grieving. We have all heard about the effects of trauma, and there is a lot of awareness now about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The effect of trauma is real, but did you know that there is a marked difference in populations of children with higher ACE scores who ALSO have positive relationships compared to those who don’t have positive relationships? Children build resilience through relationships. In fact, even without trauma, a child who doesn’t have positive relationships is at risk of problems.
So, in terms of grieving, we know that the healing process is much better for children who can grief with others. Many years ago, death was not kept from children. Family members were often cared for while sick and died in the home. In today’s environment of modern medicine, sickness and death are less visible to children. During this transition, the thinking changed. Adults and even experts thought it best not to expose children to death. Unfortunately the message they often received was “suffer in silence”. Furthermore the trauma was sometimes heightened by the unknowns around a loved one‘s death.
Even when it comes to funerals, most experts today say let the child lead, even often a young child. Of course there is no one size fits all solution. If a child is terrified of going to a funeral, forcing them is likely unwise. If it is explained to a child what to expect, and they want to go, then many experts recommend you allow it. Funerals are a way for children to see how we process death and grief as a community. These events allow children to grieve in the presence of others, and can model healthy support systems and coping mechanisms.
We want to offer these resources if you need to research further into talking to a child about death and grief. Of course, many of us benefit from professional help when it comes to death, so we urge you to visit our Get Help Now page as a starting point for finding resources.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology: Grief and Children
Sesame Street Grief Toolkit
(source of image of today’s post is from the Sesame Street Grief Toolkit video on Expressing Emotions)