Adults and children respond differently to loss, but it’s something that we all experience, in different ways, and for different reasons, at some point in our lives.
Defining grief is challenging, because it’s not something that fits into a tidy box. However, children may experience grief for a multitude of different reasons and situations. Grief arrives unannounced, and often for reasons that are beyond the control of the one bearing the loss.
A child will experience grief at the death of a loved one, but they may also experience grief if their parents divorce, they move to a new city, they lose a beloved pet, or experience a profound disappointment.
It’s important for parents and caregivers to offer comforting rituals to a child when they experience grief and stay connected to their child when they are experiencing a change or loss.
Some rituals that can help a child navigate their grief include:
This is an important tool and experience to help a child navigate loss and remember the person or thing they’re grieving over. If a child has lost a grandparent, then creating a scrapbook full of joyful memories and mementos will give your child something tangible to keep and remember their loved one and help them process and bring up healthy conversation around their loss.
Likewise, if you are moving from a beloved home, creating a memory book full of photos from the home, keeping snippets of leaves, or flowers from a garden, will help a child to remember and savour their childhood home, while giving them permission to grieve over the new change.
There are so many books that help children to process their grief and remind them that they’re not alone in their experience. Online resource, What’s Your Grief, has compiled a list of 64 children’s books about grief and death.
Taking time to quietly sit together and read will allow your child to connect with you, and also feel some guidance on navigating their loss.
One way to remember a lost loved one is to gather your loved one’s favourite things and create a shrine in a common area of your home. For example, if you’ve lost a pet, getting a framed photo of the pet, a favourite toy of theirs, and lighting a candle can help to keep their memory alive.
You could keep this shrine out for a short time after the death, and perhaps recreate it around the anniversary of their loss.
Another special way to honour a lost love one is to recreate some of their favourite foods. Spending some time with your child making a meal together using their lost loved one’s recipe is a great way to connect with your child and keep their memory alive.
Setting an intention of tradition around these types of rituals is also important. For example, if you mention to your child that every year you will make their uncle’s favourite meal to remember him, it allows them to look forward and anticipate that time together and helps them to recognize that grief comes in waves, allowing for a lifetime of remembering.
Many people, especially children, find simple creative projects soothing and comforting in times of grief and pain. Encourage your child to grieve by using their creativity.
If your child is musical, introduce them to songs about loss and have them put on a living room concert (or sing privately in their room if they prefer). If your child loves drawing, have them draw a picture that helps them remember their lost loved one, pet, or reminds them of happier times. If your child is hurt and angry, create a worry jar and let them write all their worries out and put them inside of the jar. Offer suggestions, but also ask them what types of activities they would like to pursue in their grief.
The most important thing you can do to help your child navigate grief is support them, and let them know that they are not alone, and there is no right or wrong way to feel during this time.