Hospice Foundation of America
Living With Grief, pp. 33-34
This article is a book section from Living With Grief. It offers a list of some common myths about children and adolescents and how they deal with loss and grief. It also offers practical suggestions for parents and family members to help with the process.
- Children do not grieve, or only grieve when they reach a certain age.
Children grieve at any age. The ways that grief is manifested will vary, depending on the child's age, development, and experiences.
- The death of a loved one is the only major loss that children and adolescents experience.
Children and adolescents experience a range of losses. These can include the normal developmental losses incurred when growing older (e.g., giving up childhood activities, school transitions, etc.), losses of pets, losses of dreams, separations caused by divorce or trauma (such as a loss of safety), as well as losses due to illness or death. All of these losses generate grief.
- It is better to shield children from loss, as they are too young to experience tragedy.
Much as we like to protect children from loss, it is impossible. It is far better to provide children and adolescents with support as they experience inevitable loss. We can teach and model our own ways of adapting to loss if we include children and adolescents rather than exclude them. Exclusion only increases fears and breeds feelings of resentment and helplessness.
- Children should not go to funerals. Children should always attend funerals.
Children and adolescents should have the choice as to how they wish to participate in funeral rituals. For that choice to be a meaningful one, they will need information, options, and support.
- Children get over loss quickly.
No one gets over significant loss. Children, like adults, will learn to live with the loss, revisiting that loss at different points in their development. Even infants will react to a significant loss and, as they get older, may question the events of the loss and experience a sense of grief.
- Children are permanently scarred by early, significant loss.
Most people, including children, are resilient. While early significant losses can affect development, solid support and strong continuity of care can assist children as they deal with loss.
- Talking with children and adolescents is the most effective therapeutic approach in dealing with loss.
There is much value in openly communicating with children and adolescents. But there is also great value in using approaches that allow the child or adolescent other creative ways of expression. Play, art, dance, music, activity, and ritual examples of creative modes of expression that children and adolescents may use to express grief and adapt to loss.
- Helping children and adolescents deal with loss is the responsibility of the family.
Families do have a critical responsibility. But it is a responsibility shared with other individuals and organizations such as hospices, schools, and faith communities, as well as the community at large. In times of significant loss, it is important to remember that the ability of family members to support one another can be limited.