For Those Who Give and Grieve
A quarterly newsletter for donor families, published by the National Donor Family Council
of the National Kidney Foundation, to offer information about grief and support.
For Those Who Give and Grieve is provided to all families at no cost.
Grieving Children, Children Grieving, 2003
By Celia Ryan, DCSW, LCSW-C, CGT
Clinical Social Worker and Certified Grief Therapist
O ur natural inclination is to protect our children from the brutal reality of life, but how can we? It is a nightly fixture on our TV sets, a daily exposure in our communities and worse, a personal experience at home or at school. In almost every home there has been loss of some kind. No one needs to die for there to be grief, because any change can produce a deep sense of loss. Divorce, death of a parent or grandparent, a pet’s death, a serious illness, job loss or losing a home are clearly major loss events and there will be expected grief. Smaller but no less significant losses can be a childhood illness, a disability, a best friend moving away, not making the team and so on.
Adults have few guidelines for themselves in grieving; after all, most schools don’t offer a class on “How to Help Yourself Grieve,” and Grieving for Dummies has yet to make the bestseller list! So how can we adults cope with our own grief and be appropriately responsive to our children, who are also struggling to make sense of the tragedy in their lives?
✼ Listen, listen and then listen again… with your heart as well as your ears! Try to put your own needs, expectations and prejudices aside to be “present” for your children. They need to know you care, and they need to know that YOU are OK. Often, children “protect” the adults around them at great cost to their own emotional needs. If you are grieving too and cannot attend to their needs right now, try to have another reliable adult who can listen and respond.
✼ Recognize there is no “right way” to grieve… Men, women and children have different coping styles and will grieve in a way that works for them. Parents can help by encouraging and giving permission to their children to grieve in a way that is uniquely “right” for each child. Try not to impose adult expectations on children.
✼ Time does not heal… unless grief work is going on. Time in and of itself will not magically take care of difficult feelings and experiences. In time a deep hurt is no longer as “raw” as it once was, but the pain of it will linger and may hinder current relationships or future coping. Parents can help their children by being sensitive to the needs of the child at this time, and later as different developmental milestones are reached. Over time, these needs can and likely will change.
✼ Gender differences… Although all persons grieve, there are distinct differences in the coping styles of boys and girls. A mother describes how her son and daughter coped with the death of a beloved grandparent: After an emotional weekend, my daughter said, “Mom, I need to stay home today and be by myself.” Her son went to school and promptly got into a fight! Parents can help by being sensitive to the coping styles of their individual children and making suggestions and allowances.
✼ Be proactive… Teachers can be your best support. Make sure the school knows what has happened and keep the communication open. Often we only learn about what could have been helpful after the fact. Encourage your school and community to provide information, education and helpful resources about loss, just as they do about drugs and alcohol and other important issues. All of us at some time will experience significant losses.
✼ Get support… There are many resources in your community to help you, your family and your school when there is a loss of any kind. Knowing where to turn for help is the first step in coping with tragedy.
Do you have any stories you’d like to share about helping your children cope with grief?
We invite you write to us at
National Donor Family Council, FTWGG,
30 East 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016.
Or, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vol 11 Number 3 Winter 2003