Navigating through the grief of losing a loved one under hospice care is a delicate process for everyone involved. Children, in particular, can find it challenging to cope, given their varying understanding of death as they change and grow. That’s why it’s important to provide age-appropriate resources and support to children and teens encountering such overwhelming emotions.
Recognizing Grief In Toddlers & Preschoolers
Understanding death is a complex concept for toddlers and preschoolers. They experience grief differently than older children or adults, and their understanding of loss is tied to their developmental level.
Usual responses may include changes in behavior, sleep, and appetite. Understanding their grief could be the initial step towards effective healing.
Signs of grief in toddlers and preschoolers may vary from child to child, but here are some common signs to look out for:
- Change In Behavior: Children may exhibit changes in their behavior, such as becoming more clingy, regressing in certain developmental milestones, having difficulty sleeping, or having increased tantrums or aggressive behavior.
- Emotional Expression: Toddlers and preschoolers may express grief through their emotions. They might show signs of sadness, confusion, anger, or fear. It’s important to note that not all children may express their emotions openly; some may internalize their grief.
- Loss Of Interest: Children may lose interest in previously enjoyed activities, toys, or games. They may also have a decreased appetite or changes in eating habits.
- Regressive Behavior: Regression is common in young children who are grieving. They might start engaging in behavior they had previously outgrown, such as thumb-sucking, bedwetting, or needing assistance with tasks they could previously manage independently.
- Increased Clinginess Or Separation Anxiety: Toddlers and preschoolers may become more clingy and reluctant to separate from their caregivers. They might display excessive separation anxiety, fearing that their loved ones will also leave or die.
- Difficulty Communicating: Young children may struggle to verbalize their feelings and thoughts about their loss. They might have difficulty expressing themselves or articulating their emotions, leading to frustration or increased silence.
- Physical Complaints: Some children might complain of physical symptoms like stomachaches, headaches, or fatigue. These complaints can be a way for them to express their distress or seek attention and comfort.
Helping Toddlers & Preschoolers With Grief
As the parent or caregiver of a grieving toddler or preschooler, it’s your job to provide support and guidance in an age-appropriate manner. Here are some resources and tips to help you and your little one navigate the process:
- Picture Books: Age-appropriate picture books can help children understand and process their feelings. Look for books that address grief and loss, such as “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst or “The Memory Box: A Book About Grief” by Joanna Rowland.
- Art Therapy: Encourage creative expression through art. Provide materials, like paper, crayons, and paints, allowing children to draw or paint their emotions. Listen as they share their artwork, creating a safe space for dialogue.
- Support Groups: Look for local support groups or counseling services that specialize in children’s grief. These groups often provide a safe and supportive environment for children to share their stories and connect with peers who are experiencing similar situations.
- Open Communication: Engage in age-appropriate conversations about death and loss. Avoid using euphemisms like “they are sleeping” or “they went away.” Instead, explain it in simple terms, such as “their body stopped working, and they can’t be with us anymore.” Encourage children to ask questions and provide honest answers.
- Validate Emotions: Let children know their feelings are valid and normal. It’s important to be patient and understanding as they express their emotions, even if it’s through tantrums or regression. You should also offer reassurance and comfort to keep them feeling safe and supported.
- Maintain Routines: Children find comfort and security in routines. During times of grief, try to maintain their usual schedule as much as possible. Consistency can provide stability and reassurance during a time of change and uncertainty.
- Provide Outlets For Expression: Encourage children to express their emotions in healthy ways. Engage in activities like storytelling, puppet play, or role-playing where they can act out their feelings. This helps them externalize their grief and develop coping skills.
- Seek Professional Help: If you notice persistent or severe signs of grief in your child, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. They can offer guidance on how to navigate the grieving process and provide additional support tailored to your child’s needs.
Responding To School-Age Children’s Grief
As children grow, their comprehension of death expands. They understand its permanency but may struggle to express their grief verbally. For these children, creative outlets can act as excellent therapeutic resources.
- Encourage children to draw, paint, or write about their feelings.
- Provide grief-counseling resources such as therapists specializing in child grief.
- Utilize storybooks about grief that match their level of understanding and emotional maturity.
Supporting Grieving Teenagers
Teenagers often have an adult understanding of death but may lack the resources and emotional maturity to cope with the intense feelings of sorrow. They are likely to retreat and prefer communicating with peers than with adults.
- Encourage open communication about their feelings.
- Recommend peer support groups for teenagers dealing with grief.
- Suggest music, journaling, or sports to help them in expressing or channeling their emotions.
- Remind teenagers to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Practicing good self-care will help your teen feel better overall and it’s easy to let it slide during the grieving process.
- Provide opportunities for remembrance like creating a memory box, writing letters, or planting a memorial tree.
- Respond promptly and empathically to any behavior changes. Adolescent grief can be difficult to navigate and your teen may need you to recognize that different behavior may be stemming from sad feelings.
The Importance Of Continued Bereavement Support
It’s important to remember that many times grief begins before death and continues after death. Your child’s needs will vary depending on their age group, but grief support for kids is always needed.
When your loved one enters Hospice care, start looking for educational resources, online grief centers, and other ways to help your child understand death and their feelings.
Finding The Help Your Family Needs
Navigating the terrain of grief is never easy, especially when it entails supporting children in their journey. Amore Hospice Care understands the ruggedness of this path, and we want you to know you aren’t treading it alone.
If you’re looking for concurrent support in Las Vegas, NV, we offer the strength, resources, and compassionate care that your family needs during such trying times. Together, we can help your child navigate this journey to healing. Contact us if you need help weathering through this challenging season.