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|Helping a Child Deal with the Death of a Loved One
|by William Stratbucker, MD on 08/12/2010 at 12:49 PM
Nancy Kingma, MA, BSN, RN, LLP, LPC, NCC is a bereavement services coordinator at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital and director of Camp Compass. She is our guest blogger this week.
That is why I always advise parents and adults to tell children the truth about death in a gentle, simple manner that is appropriate for that child's age. Once the child has had time to process the news, the parent or adult should be available to answer as many questions as the child has-this will help build trust and allows the child to grieve.
Here are other ways you can assist a child who is dealing with the death of a loved one:
- Use the words "death" and "die." Words such as "passed," "lost," or "passed away" may be used in an attempt to soften the harshness of death. These words are confusing, especially to a small child who may reply, "If he is lost, let's go find him."
- Let the child know that feelings are okay. There are no "right" or "wrong" feelings when it comes to grief. Parents and adults can help a child to identify his or her feelings, then provide constructive ways of dealing with them. For instance, some suggestions for working through anger could be playing a game of soccer or hitting a punching bag.
- Share your feelings with the child. Just as we may feel the need to protect our children, they may also feel a responsibility to protect parents and adults. By sharing your feelings, you can both better cope with the grief.
- Assist the child in finding his or her own meaningful way of saying good bye. This could be writing a letter or putting something special into the loved one's casket.
Our region is fortunate to have another resource for parents or caregivers helping children cope with death of a loved one. The resource is Camp Compass, a one-day camp for children who have experienced the death of someone significant in their life.
The annual camp is scheduled for September 25, 2010. Each year dozens of volunteers including nurses, child life specialists, social workers, therapists, physicians and teachers join together to volunteer their time to work with grieving children. The primary goal of Camp Compass is for campers, ages 5 to 15, to have fun while grieving in a safe environment. In addition to group discussions, participants benefit from a number of activities, many of which teach coping skills, such as making memory quilts or boxes and playing games.
On the morning of Camp Compass there is a two hour parents' support session conducted by a therapist or social worker. The session gives parents an opportunity to gain an understanding of grieving children and are given tools and resources to help support their children.
I'd like to share just a few sections of a letter I received from a mother whose child attended Camp Compass. I think it will give you an even better feel for how valuable the program can be:
I can't say enough to thank all of you for the amazing experience my daughter had last Saturday with all of you....She kept repeating things like: "Mom, it was SO much fun...Mom, isn't it cool that I got to pick out my own stuffed animal?!...Mom, we even got to....we talked about..." etc....In fact, I am not exaggerating when I tell you she said "Outside of Disney World, this was the most fun camp, Mom!!...I know she felt her grief was understood, "normalized" and that, for once, there were other kids like her!! Tonight she sleeps with her garden pot nightlight, made that day, and her new "teddy" chosen from many stuffed critters that greeted the children upon their arrival at camp. I am forever grateful and have already recommended next year's camp to another mom for her children who recently lost their father in a tragic car accident....
Click here if you would to register for this year's camp or learn more.
- Nancy Kingma