by School Psychologist Amy Van Strien, M. Ed.
Dear Loveland Magazine Readers,
As our community copes with loss, we want to ensure that parents and adults have information about how to support our youth. We want to keep in mind that children and adults respond differently to loss. If you have any concerns about your child’s response please see the resources at the end of this document.
Tips for Children and Teens with Grieving Friends and Classmates
Adapted from The National Association of School Psychologists
Seeing a friend try to cope with a loss may scare or upset children who have had little or no experience with death and grieving. Following are some suggestions parents and caring adults can provide to children and youth to deal with this “secondary” loss.
• Particularly with younger children, it will be important to help clarify their understanding of death. See tips above under “helping children cope.”
• Seeing their classmates’ reactions to loss may bring about some fears of losing their own parents or siblings. Children need reassurance from caregivers and teachers that their own families are safe. For children who have experienced their own loss (previous death of a parent, grandparent, sibling), observing the grief of a friend can bring back painful memories. These children are at greater risk for developing more serious stress reactions and should be given extra support as needed.
• Children (and many adults) need help in communicating condolence or comfort messages. Provide children with age-appropriate guidance for supporting their peers. Help them decide what to say (e.g., “Steve, I am so sorry about your father. I know you will miss him very much. Let me know if I can help you with your paper route….”) and what to expect (see “expressions of grief” above).
• Help children anticipate some changes in friends’ behavior. It is important that children understand that their grieving friends may act differently, may withdraw from their friends for a while, might seem angry or very sad, etc., but that this does not mean a lasting change in their relationship.
• Explain to children that their “regular” friendship may be an important source of support for friends and classmates. Even normal social activities such as inviting a friend over to play, going to the park, playing sports, watching a movie, or a trip to the mall may offer a much needed distraction and sense of connection and normalcy.
• Children need to have some options for providing support—it will help them deal with their fears and concerns if they have some concrete actions that they can take to help. Suggest making cards, drawings, helping with chores or homework, etc. Older teens might offer to help the family with some shopping, cleaning, errands, etc., or with babysitting for younger children.
• Encourage children who are worried about a friend to talk to a caring adult. This can help alleviate their own concern or potential sense of responsibility for making their friend feel better. Children may also share important information about a friend who is at risk of more serious grief reactions.
• Parents and teachers need to be alert to children in their care who may be reacting to a friend’s loss of a loved one. These children will need some extra support to help them deal with the sense of frustration and helplessness that many people are feeling at this time.
Keep in mind that since we are on summer break, children may need to find additional way and times to connect with each other.
Fernside Center for Grieving Children: 246-9140
Child Focus: 752-1555