Weekend: Mental Health Moment

By LINDA BRANWELL
Imagine what your experience was like over the death of a loved one. Sadness, anger, fear, and all kinds of emotions abound.
Like adults, children feel the loss and emotional pain, too, but in a different way. Adults internalize their feelings, but children act them out because they don’t have the vocabulary to tell us.
Sometimes adults want to protect children from talking about death because they “don’t know what to say” to them, or they are “too young to understand.”
Such beliefs can be problematic, especially for some very young children, because they believe they are to blame for the death. In other words, they may see an adult’s sadness and silence as disappointment in them.
Because adults play a significant role in helping children process grief, consider the following guidelines.
• Allow for open and honest communication.
Children need to feel comfortable to ask questions and express their thoughts and feelings. Involve them in family discussions about the person’s death.
• Try to understand the child’s perception of death.
You might want to ask them what they already know about death, or what else they would like to learn about it. For children who are unable to communicate verbally, provide them with paper, crayons, or play dough to help them express their feelings.
Give correct and factual information.
• Younger children take the words of adults literally and as absolute fact.
For example, children may interpret the statement “grandma has gone away” to mean that grandma wanted to leave them; or “daddy is sleeping” to mean that they will wait for him to wake up; or “God wanted him” to mean that God may want them next.
• Let’s not add to the child’s confusion.
Help children visualize what will happen at a viewing, memorial, or funeral service. A person could describe the physical setting and the role of the priest/minister.
Many experts believe children should be allowed to touch the body of the deceased, if they want to, and if they are prepared for it ahead of time.
•Allow children to say goodbye.
One effective way is to have children draw a picture that can be placed in the casket. For older children, they may want to write a note.
• Loss and grief are a normal part of human life.
Following these guidelines may not only help the child, but may also help adults become more comfortable with their own grief.
Branwell, a licensed independent social worker with a specialization in chemical dependency, is owner of Espero Wellness & Counseling Center Ltd., Findlay. If you have a mental health question, please write to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay, OH 45839.

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