In recent years it seems as if children are being acknowledged for their own sense of personhood. There was a time that children were considered to be “adults” in miniature in most ways except in the area of grief. For a long time, children’s grief was not acknowledged probably because many adults felt it didn’t exist. It is more likely however that a grieving child was ignored because adults didn’t know how to deal with the grief of a child.
We have learned over the years that children are more than little adults. Too often children were considered “possessions” to be seen but not heard. As such it was also assumed that they did not experience grief like an adult and as a result the attention needed by them was ignored or at least not seen for what it was.
Like many differences with adults children often grieve differently. (But then again, though grief is experienced by all, it also unique to each person). Depending on the age of the child, they will experience grief differently from other children who may be grieving over the same loss. Unfortunately, adults have not paid enough attention to a child’s needs to help them grieve in a way that is helpful for their development.
Because of the length of time that I first encountered my own understanding of the needs of children in these situations, I have lost the source of the information I have carried with me. When dealing with a child who is experiencing grief, I have used the acronym C.H.I.L.D.as starting place in journeying with a child through their grief.
The “C” reminds me to “consider” the needs of the child first. They are different but no less important than those of anyone else who is grieving.
“H” reminds me to be “honest” with the child. Honesty means to tell the truth about what has happened. Nothing could be more harmful to a child experiencing the death of a loved one, than to be told a falsehood even if it is intended to “lighten the blow”. A good (or is it, bad) example would be to tell a child who is experiencing the death of parent that “God knows best” or “God needed her more, right now” or “Grandpas has gone to sleep with the angels” or some such expression. Children can handle to true a lot better than we often give them credit.
“I” means that the child should be involved to the extent to which they feel comfortable. The degree of involvement will vary from child to child, situation to situation. Let the child speak their needs.
The “L” is one the most important in any grieving situation, child or adult. As a caregiver, we need to “listen”. Too often we feel the need to talk, to attempt to soothe the child by telling them what we know. Instead of sharing our needs and answers we need to listen.
Lastly, “D” means we need to “do it all” again and again.
Children experience loss just like anyone else. They need to be allowed to grieve. They may also need help to do so, but they also must be allowed to set the agenda for it to happen in a healthy way.