Children and Grief

In times of death and grief it can be hard to know how to support kids. Here’s some ideas that might help.

This week I was at a friends funeral. He had been a teacher most of his life and loved kids, particularly his grandkids. As I sat at the funeral and watched his grandchildren listening to the stories the family shared, it reminded me of how important it is to include children with us in our journey of grief.

Different cultures and family traditions have different expectations of children and how they engage with grief, but let me remind you, most children notice when something is missing from their life when it was important to them. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, loss and grief is part of their lives too.

When I was about 5, my 16 year old uncle died in a car accident. I had grown up with him till that point and loved him dearly. I had only just moved out of my grandparents home and when my mum told me that my uncle had gone away and wasn’t coming back, as a child I had assumed that he was mad at me because I had moved out. It was a long time before my mum had figured out what my thinking was and we had a serious talk about death and dying. I remember almost having a sense of relief that I hadn’t done anything wrong.

When someone we love dies it can be really hard as adults to deal with that loss, particularly when it is sudden. Our own grief can become so consuming that we are unable to see others in this, particularly children. Yet as carers of children, it is important to be honest, real and try to find appropriate ways to talk about what has happened and if we can’t do it we need to get someone to help us that can. There is some great information on how to deal with this on the Kids Helpline.

My friends family did this beautifully, they told stories in ways that the kids would engage with and understand. The prayers were real and able to connect with ( and not too long), but the reason that triggered this article was how they included the children in the service. They had video interviewed each of the grandkids with their favourite memory and a message they wanted to share. They were short but beautiful. It was a powerful way to engage the kids and include them without the pressure to be up the front.

There are many other ways you can include kids, getting them to write cards or letters or make pictures to send with the person who has died. They can send them before or put them on the coffin during the service. They can lay flowers with the rest of the family. There are many and creative ways to include children, the key is that we do include children.

A couple of years ago when I was at a congregation in Castle Hill, I created an A3 foldable worksheet for kids to help families deal with grief. It was part of what I offered for a funeral. The kids could use it either during the service or gave the family something they could do together. I have attached it to this article feel free to use it.

In our western world death is not something we have to face very often. I think the Uniting Church liturgy does an amazing job of helping people on the journey of grief in a faithful way. It allows people to be sad, to be reconciled, to remember the good and to remember God’s love both for the person and for us in our grief. This is not an easy time or thing to deal with but it’s good to remember that children are not excluded from this grief and sometimes might need a little more help to work it through.

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Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.

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