November is Children’s Grief Awareness Month. A month in which we recognize grieving children and honor their loved ones lost. In Indiana alone, 1 in 12 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the age of 18, ranking Indiana 16th in the nation for childhood bereavement. These numbers are more than doubled by the age of 25.
November has been set aside to bring awareness to our grieving children, with November 19th being Children's Grief Awareness Day. It is important to realize, even in the midst of the impending holiday season, that children and teens are still struggling through their grief. For grieving children, the winter holidays may be just another reminder of their loved ones death.
Holly Lichtsinn, licensed therapist at J. Wilbur Haley Elementary School and Erin’s House Facilitator, has offered some advice for teachers, caregivers, and friends on supporting grieving children. Advice not only for the month of November, but all year long.
You do not need to be an expert to reach out
Be present and attentive with grieving children as they express their feelings. This is more helpful than you realize. Allow an opportunity for children to express themselves. It is important to listen more and talk less. Sometimes, children are more comfortable speaking with a teacher or other school personnel, because they do not want to cause negative emotions when speaking with their family.
As caregivers, be aware of thoughts like these. Children are surprisingly in tune with how sadness affects others around them and often want to protect their loved ones. Caregivers should try to be open to conversations that may be tough for both parties. Assure children that their grief is okay and they are allowed to share their feelings freely.
Teachers and caregivers should also be aware that children may have difficulties in their schoolwork. Troubles with concentration and learning may be associated with their grief. Extra school support could be necessary. Work as a team involving the school and caregivers to set up a plan. Flexibility on due dates, tests, etc. may help. Having a strong, supportive network is key.
Since a supportive network is essential to a child's healing, Erin's House offers bi-monthly peer-support groups for grieving children and teens. Being among peers with shared experiences creates an opportunity to speak openly and without judgment. Knowing they are not alone in their journey helps children and teens cope with their grief.
Here are some additional tips when discussing grief:
Pay attention to the words you use
Remember, when speaking with young children about death, use permanent words like "dead" and "died." Words/phrases that we feel will sound gentler, such as "passed away" or “lost,” can cause confusion in what actually happened to their loved ones.
Recognize feelings of guilt and shame
Feelings of guilt and shame are common among grieving children. Reassure children that they are not responsible for the death of their loved one. Be aware that feelings of guilt and shame are often associated with grief, even when there is no reason to suspect that a child may feel guilty.
Don’t force the conversation
Some children, especially older children and teens, just aren’t ready to talk. Don't force it. Instead, help them identify other adults who they can speak with when they are ready. School counselors, other staff members at school, family members or family friends, or a mental health provider are good resources to know. Show you care by remaining available and supportive, and touch base with them offering to talk every once once in a while.
At Erin's House, a safe and supportive environment is provided for grieving children and teens. Erin's House allows participants to speak openly about their grief. Our small peer groups help minimize unresolved grief, prevent misinterpretation of grieving behaviors, allow for the normalization of the changes and effects of grief, and enhance well-being throughout the grieving journey. All of this is offered at no cost to participants.
“Or did you mean to ask 'Why are you sad so often?' Ask the moon. Ask what it has witnessed.” - Linda Pastan
Erin’s House is here to support our community through their grief. If you are in need of resources or support, please reach out to us to speak with a Child Grief Specialist: Info@ErinsHouse.org or 260.423.2466.
Scott Hobbie | Erin’s House Facilitator