Coping with grief and loss

dealing with gieft
Has your Little recently experienced a death? Unsure of how to go about addressing it? Here are some tips to help you support your Little during this time. When someone dies, it is common for a person of any age to grieve. People often grieve the loss of family members, friends, teachers, and pets. Grief is a process in which a person deals with the emotional, behavioral, and physical changes that occur as a person adjusts to life without the deceased. Although there is no guideline for grief, it is important to understand that people grieve differently and the length of time can vary.
Oftentimes, our Littles may lose parents or family members that they may not have necessarily been close with, but that does not diminish the impact the death may have on their lives. Regardless of how you, as a Big, may perceive the magnitude of the loss, let your Little be the one to define the significance of the loss. Even if your Little experienced a loss a year ago, it is possible for them to still be grieving that loss. Your role in the process is to be a listening ear and help them process their feelings. This is not a time to direct their feelings or let them know what they should do.
What signs can I look for?

Normal behavior

  • Crying
  • Sadness
  • Talking about or avoiding talking about the death
  • Being silly
  • Expressing fear of death
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Disobeying directions
  • A change in academic achievement
  • Sleeping too much or not getting enough sleep
  • Overeating or having no appetite at all
  • Expressing anger
  • Withdrawing/Isolating from others
  • Urine or bowl accidents

Troublesome behavior

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Using drugs (prescription/over the counter/illegal drugs)
  • Self-harm (cutting, hitting, burning)
  • Eating disorders
  • Completely shutting people out
  • Threatening to hurt others
  • Talk of suicide
  • Violent play
  • Aggressive language

Young children between 7-11 do not fully understand death. They often don’t understand that it is permanent and may feel that they played a role in the death. In order to protect kids from the issue, adults commonly say, “X passed away” or “X has gone on to a better place.” This language confuses kids and makes them think that this person can come back if they wait long enough. For the kids who do understand death, they may begin to wonder if death is a punishment and look for acceptable ways to deal with a death. As a Big, you should encourage them to talk about their feelings and answer any questions they have. At this age, they often express feelings through physical activities/play. Help them to exercise alternative coping methods (create a memory box, write a letter, participate in a 3k leukemia walk, participate in grief groups, etc.).

Due to their age, adolescents have the cognitive ability to understand death and its permanency. They may question the meaning of death, contemplate spirituality, or alter their behavior as a result of a death. Since much of their world revolves around their interactions with their social groups, a death of a friend can affect them differently if it were a sibling or parent. They are particularly egocentric during this age; therefore, they are likely to be more concerned with how the death affects their own life. It would be particularly important to focus on helping them work through their own feelings rather than sharing your own experiences with them. The best thing you can do for grieving teenager is listen.

Keep in mind that your Little is an individual. Your values and beliefs are not theirs. Your Little is still developing their own opinions about death, religion, spirituality, etc. If your Little’s parent or guardian mentions the death to you, it’s okay to ask them questions about how it’s affected your Little. It is acceptable to acknowledge the death with your Little. Let them know that you are open to listening to them whenever they want to talk about it. Do not push them to talk about it with you, but let them know that you’re supportive.

Your main objective should be to listen to your Little and help them to process their feelings should they mention anything to you. Be mindful of your body language. Validate their feelings. If they say that they’re sad, let them know that you hear them by repeating back their feelings and asking open-ended questions. A supportive response would be, “I hear that you’re sad. How has that been for you?”  People commonly say things like, “The sadness eventually goes away. I used to write poetry to deal with the death of my cat. Maybe that would work for you.” This type of response doesn’t really acknowledge their feelings and instead inserts your own coping strategies. Don’t focus so much on finding the right words to say. The listening piece is the most important part. It can be helpful for your Little to get extra support from a counselor or joining a children’s grief group. Take a look at the Grief Resource List for support in your area.

Possible activities include:

  • Writing letter to the deceased
  • Planting a tree or plant
  • Lighting a candle
  • Make a collage
  • Wearing a piece of the deceased’s clothing
  • Play a song/make a playlist
  • Journaling
  • Trace your Little’s body & write their feelings according to where they feel them (Little: “My heart is broken.” Big or Little: Draw a broken heart or write broken over the heart)

If you have dealt with a grieving child in the past or are currently, share you experience. How did it feel for you as a Big? What are some of the activities your Little did to cope?

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2 thoughts on “Coping with grief and loss

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