Helping Youth Deal With Loss
When a child or teenager is faced with a loss in their family or that of a close friend what can you do to support them? As a parent this can be particularly difficult to deal with as you may be struggling with your own grief as well. Death is the only thing we know for sure that everyone will have to cope with, but it something most parents don’t discuss with their kids.
When speaking with kids about a loss it is important that the person giving the information is trustworthy, calm, and able to pick up subtle cues from the young person as to how they are reacting to the information. A six year old’s understanding of death is very different from a teenager’s. It is okay to let kids know you are sad but it is important they know you can handle this and will get through this together. Give them the opportunity to ask questions and answer them as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answer let them know that is something you can’t answer.
The decision to attend a funeral or memorial service should be offered to the child and explained what will happen and what they may expect from others. If you can, show them the venue ahead of time and let them ask questions. Some youth may need counselling to deal with a death, but many do not. This may depend on the relationship they had with the deceased, their own resilience, and the circumstances of the death. They all seem to want to talk about their own experience whether it is with a parent, other relative, or friend and where they were and how they felt when they heard of the loss. It is also important to remember the first year after a death is the most challenging and you should speak about their loss and find ways to still celebrate the life and memories of their loved one.
Remember, death is a normal part of life and we can help our kids understand this if we have open discussions about this on an ongoing basis.