Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grieving Children: Part 1 Feeling and Healing at Ele's Place

"Red Balloon" by Suzy St. John

Do children grieve? 

Yes, of course. Children and teens have complex feelings and reactions to crises and changes. Children will grieve the loss of a family member by death or divorce, the loss of a friend, a pet, even a treasured toy. 
This post is the first in a series on understanding--and effectively supporting--children who are mourning a death. Are you as shocked as I, to read:

 "One in 10 children under the age of 18 will experience the death of a parent. In Michigan, that statistic represents 117,000 children grieving a parent’s death, while thousands more grieve the death of a sibling or other loved one."

[Source: Ele's Place and U.S. Census Bureau]

Reactions are in direct proportion to the child’s maturity and ability to comprehend essential facts

‘Essential facts’ are delivered at the discretion of the adults in their lives. Protective, wary of inflicting psychological harm, adults sometimes veil facts of a death with words like sleeping, lost, gone. A child’s imagination works diligently to fit those terms into their limited universe of understanding:  When will Grandpa wake up? Did I do something bad to make Mommy die? I don't want to take a trip but never come home like Daddy!  To reduce confusion and anxiety, experts advise telling a child about a death using simple language, avoiding unnecessary medical detail. Ele's Place, a Healing Center for Grieving Children and Teens, suggests: "death means the body no longer works, and the person who died cannot come back."

It's okay to feel angry
I recently took a Tour of the Heart at the Lansing, Michigan Ele's Place (pronounced El-ee), the first children's grief center in Michigan. Established in 1991 and serving well over 200 children and teens each week, the center conducts support groups and activities allowing kids a safe place to explore and express feelings.

is a safe place
Sandbox play to understand funerals and burial
Feeling 'upside down' is hard

Children gain immeasurable support by being in the company of other grieving kids. At Ele's Place, the flow of families into the process is ongoing. Children arrive feeling raw or numb and hear other kids talk about fears, ask questions, and describe ways they are learning to move forward.

Families can check out books for all ages from Ele's Place library
The Condolence Coach has written about the benefit of Condolence Gifts such as a journal for teens, so I asked Program Director and Social Worker, Sarah Rockstad, LMSW, about giving a book to a grieving child. "It's a great idea because a child can read it, find comfort with it at their own pace; and some are written as workbooks," she explained. 

This book list appears in Ele's Place downloadable .pdf brochure, How to Help a Grieving Child

Ages 8 to 12:  Coping with Death and Grief
by Marge Heegaard
Children tell their own stories of loss, helping to reassure the reader that he or she is not alone. 

* for parents: The Grieving Child—A Parent’s Guide
by Helen Fitzgerald
An excellent guide to understanding and helping children cope with grief.

Ages 12 and up:  Straight Talk About Death for Teenagers
by Earl Grollman
Easy to read, straight-forward information about handling grief. 

Ages 6 to 12:  What on Earth Do You Do
When Someone Dies?
by Trevor Romain
A helpful, informative book for kids about their experiences following a death. 

* for parents: Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Loved One
by William C. Kroen, Ph.D.
A brief, helpful guide for parents answering frequently-asked questions.

Ages 3 to 8:  Lifetimes
by Brian Mellonie & Robert Ingpen
A gentle explanation of the life cycle in nature. 

When preparing a CONDOLENCE GIFT, remember to include your note. 

For the teen's journal gift, the Condolence Coach suggested writing a thought and a question on the first page. For a book gift, a very brief inscription is all that is needed. The well-chosen book will, in many ways, speak for you. Your book inscription could say:
 To Emma, my dear niece. This book is a hug from me, when I can't be there. Love, Aunt Chris 

Dear CJ, always remember how much your Dad loved you. He told me that a lot!  Jack

You are an awesome girl, Nicole. I know you like books, so read this to your sister when she feels sad. Lots of love, Mrs. Johnstone
"Sisters" by Suzy St. John

Please visit the second in this series of posts: Grieving Children Part-2, the Memory Box Condolence Gift

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