Dealing with the loss of a parent or a loved one is hard for everyone, especially children. For some children it is even worse because they do not understand what has happened or what it means. When they are confused it may affect them as they grow older.
Gwen Kapcia is the program director for the After Care program at Gorsline-Runciman Funeral Home. She says parents, older family members and friends should address all of a child’s issues and questions when a loved one dies.
[junk] According to kidshealth.org, the best way to help a child deal with death is to explain the concept ahead of time. Most people bring up the issue of death to a child when someone has just died, which is not always the best time, especially if the adult is experiencing grief as well.
Parents try to protect their children from as much as possible, but hiding certain things from them does more harm than good. According to kidshealth.org, “If children are given the message that dying is OK to talk about, they will feel free to ask questions and will cope better when confronted with the death of a loved one.”
Kapcia says making children forget how they really feel will be detrimental in the long run, even if a smile is the immediate result. “Adults are always replacing pain for reward. When something goes wrong in a child’s life adults try and make it up to them by buying them something new or giving them junk foods,” Kapcia said. “We need to let the children have these painful moments so they will learn how to deal with these types of situations.”
Parents should also tell their children the truth. Most kids get to a point in their lives where they become very inquisitive, so when they ask questions, it is important for adults to be honest, even if they don’t know all the answers.
Death is something parents should be straightforward about. Kidshealth.org says parents should avoid saying that the loved one “went away” or “went to sleep” because it will confuse the child more. Instead, simply say the person has died. Kapcia agrees with this idea as well.
Kapcia says, because children have such basic thought patterns, they process information differently from adults. Their grieving does not make them stop missing the person that passed away—when they want to continue with their day, she believes their thinking does not allow them to focus on the same things.
“From my perspective, I realize that children do not get a chance to grieve. They do not get a chance to express their feelings either. When these things do not happen they are hurt in the long run,” Kapcia said. “Adults do not have to understand what they feel, they just need to understand that they are having these feelings and adults need to make it acceptable that they are having those feelings.”
The Web site also suggests being spiritual gives the child answers they may be looking for. “Religion teaches about the meaning of life and death, provides explanations and offers comfort. If you are not religious, you can still teach your children there is a higher meaning of life. We can carry on the good works of a loved one who died. We can dedicate some good works of our own to their memory. Parents can teach children that there is a reason for everything, even death. Seeing themselves as a small but important part of a larger mosaic can help children remain hopeful.”
It is also good to help children remember the deceased loved one. Kidshealth.org suggests making a scrapbook and having the child look through it periodically. They also suggest keeping their memory alive and doing things they once enjoyed.
The last thing parents want is for their children to be affected by a loved one’s death when they become adults themselves. If their feelings are not addressed at a young age they could develop problems committing, may become anti-social or try to seek affection from inappropriate sources.
When children do not get their questions answered they believe that the person’s death was somehow their fault.
“Because parents did not explain to the child that it was not their fault they begin to think that they are the blame,” Kapcia said. “Therefore they make up their own reasoning and it is 100 times worse than the truth.” She also explained how such a child will develop a caretaker mentality in regard to the family as a result.
MSU sophomore Shashana Woods lost her brother when she was 8. She is still affected by his death, even though it happened almost 12 years ago.
“I kind of feel like I have been cheated. When my brother died my sisters were older than me and he was able to see them grow up. I am now in college and when I graduated from high school he could not be there with me,” Woods said. “I had to go to prom and homecoming without him being there. When I had my first boyfriend and other problems he could not be there for me like he did with them and it really, really hurts.”
Woods also has to live with the memory of the day it happened and how bad she felt. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It was one of the most traumatic times in my life,” Woods said. “I remember not being able to eat or sleep. I can also remember how I could not stop crying.”
Woods also feels that she had no support when he died. She said that when she was young, no one thought she would understand what had happened. “I’ll make sure that I never do things like that to my kids because kids do understand,” Woods said. “They understand a lot more than adults think they do.”
To help her get through the pain of losing her brother, Woods began writing poems and letters. Because she had no one to talk to, she would sit alone and cry. Even now, she says she does not think she will ever get over what happened, because she still has dreams of what life would have been like if her brother had lived.
The entire Woods family has been affected by the loss. “Everything in my family went downhill. He was the man in all of your lives because he was the oldest and the only man,” Woods said. “Our family is falling apart because of that. If he was here things would be in order. He was the rock of our family, he held us up and now that he is gone we are still continuing to fall apart.”
Woods says she can handle the situation now because of her faith and friends. “I pray and talk to close friends, but usually I just cry to myself and pray,” Woods said. No one really understands where I stand on the whole situation.”
Family and friends should always try to stick together, especially in times of need and tragedy. And the grieving process should be open to children, not hidden from them or ignored. Adults may sometimes get caught up in their own emotions and make the child what Kapcia refers to as the “forgotten griever.”
“Grief is not an illness,” Kapcia said. “With proper support, anyone can sing the same song with the same harmony before and after a tragic event.”

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