Last week I discussed how fortunate I felt that my children and I attended New Song Center for Grieving Children. Honestly, I don’t know where my children would be today, in respect to processing their grief, if we didn’t find New Song. I have recommended New Song to other families who have had to face the unfortunate road of grief. Then, one day, I started to wonder… What about families that don’t live in Arizona? Where can they go? What type of assistance is available around the country?
I turned to the expert once more to help me answer some of these questions and pass on to you information that I hope will provide guidance. I feel honored that Caryn Kondo has written a second guest post (if you missed her first post, Commitment and Courage: Parenting the Grieving Child,click here to read it).
Below Caryn will offer some valuable tips on helping your child, teenager, young adult and yourself maneuver through the grief process. She offers excellent links to help you find support groups in your area as well as a website that contains some fabulous reading books and workbooks about grief for children and adults.
I would like to thank Caryn for her support and wisdom.
“What Can We Do for the Children?”
C. Caryn Kondo, MSW
A death in any family is a difficult event to process. When grieving children are involved, there can be an added sense of helplessness. “What can we do for the children?” Is often asked with great concern and care. Listed are a couple of important factors that may aide your quest.
First, children grieve differently than adults, yet still need to process those difficult emotions in a safe and supportive environment. Children often express their grief through behaviors and play. They may not be able to clearly verbalize their thoughts and emotions. Allowing for creative and active outlets is a very positive and productive strategy. Give the child a pool noodle to bang on the floor or hold ice and throw it at an outside wall; these activities can release anger in a safe way. Create memory books or boxes that contain special objects, keeping those we have loved close to our hearts.
Secondly, children are always looking to adults as their role models. A child first learns by observing. How we express and process our grief greatly affects the children. Sometimes, in the name of protection, adults will hide their emotions from children. We think, “if they don’t see me cry, they won’t get upset”. This strategy teaches children quickly that displaying grief and talking about emotions is not allowed. Instead, openly discuss your emotions; let the children know you are sad and missing your loved one. Tell stories and memories of your loved one; honoring their life and name. We want to teach children it is ok to feel and share those emotions. We cannot expect children to open up to us, if we do not first model our own willingness to be open.
Remember, grief is the natural response to death and loss. Our grief is closely connected to our attachment and love. Many children will be able to process their grief safely and appropriately within their own family, friends and supports. Still, there may be times when adults are concerned for their children and feel they need added services. This may be due to prolonged or intense symptoms of grief that are affecting the child’s ability to function at their best. Adults may witness a significant drop in school grades or performance, inappropriate or concerning behaviors, depression or suicide ideations, which all warrant added help. In those cases there are a couple different services to explore.
Around the nation there are many children and family grief support groups. These wonderful agencies provide an environment for children to meet other children and process their grief in a safe setting. Groups are generally facilitated and provide creative interventions or activities to help children, teens and adults express their grief emotions. One website, www.dougy.org, has a national registry to help families around the nation find a group. Other community grief groups may have a children’s component that are specific to a certain type of death, whether it was through a suicide, homicide or illness. Check with your local hospice and children’s hospital, as well as suicide hotlines for information.
Another service that is available in most states is children’s grief camps. This is another offering that may fit a families’ need. Children’s grief camps provide a more short term intense grief support program. Many camps have weekend retreats and/or week long camp experiences. Some camps are also specific to certain ages, such as teens or specific to certain circumstance, such as death by cancer.
There may be times when a child or teen will benefit from one on one grief counseling. If there has been multiple death and losses, if the death was sudden and traumatic or if there are issues that are impeding their grief, such as history of abuse/abandonment’s, substance use or mental health diagnosis.
For young children, a play therapist can be an appropriate referral. A play therapist with grief and loss experience will use play and active interventions to help the young child express their grief. For children and teens that have experienced a traumatizing death; for example, being in the car during the accident, a suicide or homicide, a therapist with EMDR and trauma specialty is indicated.
Finding a therapist can seem like a daunting task. Some states have play therapy associations and websites that make finding a play therapist in your area easier. Many funeral homes have lists of community therapists as do pediatric hospitals and hospices. Investigating upfront is necessary and worthwhile in the long run.
Books and Workbooks:
Some grieving children respond quite well either at home, with a therapist or in groups utilizing the added outlet of books, workbooks and journals. Guided reading and writing can be a wonderful intervention for the child that responds well to books. The added benefit of books and workbooks is that children can create and process in their home and in their rooms where they feel the safest. It is a more quiet private process that can yield beautiful results. There are many books written for grieving children of varying ages and circumstances. The best resource to find a book or workbook that may fit a specific need can be found at www.centering.org. This website is designated to helping grieving children and adults find the right book.
Whether a family chooses to support their child at home, by attending a support group or camp or finding an individual therapist; it is important to remember that the goal of any service is to help children process their grief in a safe environment, express their emotions in healthy ways and learn to manage their many challenges. We all strive to have children experience a sense of mastery, empowerment and growth despite the heaviness of grief and loss.
Caryn is a Clinical Director at The New Song Center for Grieving Children a Program of Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix and a Bereavement Specialist for Therapy with Heart in Scottsdale.
P.S. The heart was made by Charlie one evening at group. Art projects are an excellent way for children to express their emotions.