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Nothing is more difficult than watching your young child go through a loss. Children may experience feelings of sadness, anger, and/or confusion after a loss, yet they generally don’t talk about their feelings. When we want to talk about feelings with our children, it’s important that we speak their language – otherwise, things can get confusing.
So how can we connect with our children so that they will open up and talk about their feelings? Kids are more receptive to talking through play. Try activities and games like puppets, drawing, art, and clay to help get your child talking after a loss.
Dovid Schatzkamer, LMHC, is a registered play therapist supervisor who specializes in working with children ages 3-10 and their families.
The death of a parent is difficult for any child to process, but is even more so for children with special needs who may have an especially hard time because of their particular limitations.
The first step is recognizing your child’s developmental level. A child operating on an 8-year-old level should be spoken to differently than a child operating on the developmental level of a 4-year-old. Parents should expect a range of reactions and allow for grief to express itself in multiple ways.
Use concrete and literal terms so as to avoid confusing your child and be as honest as possible. Hiding information can result in an aggravated emotional response. Be patient as your child may ask the same questions repeatedly and may need the same information repeated and reinforced. Give your child the opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns, and talk about the parent who passed. Use “feeling words” and explain that a range of emotions is appropriate in response to a loss. You may want to set up a routine or “toolbox” of skills that will help your child manage strong emotions. Knowing what to do when strong feelings arise will allow your child to feel some control in a situation that they otherwise feel helpless about.
For all children, but especially for those who are lower-functioning or non-verbal, recognize that your presence, patience, modeling, and nurturing is a valuable resource, even if your child is limited in his or her ability to communicate feelings.
Chava Kadosh, LCSW, has a private practice in New York.
Visiting during shiva helps “break the ice” prior to the child’s return to school, provides support to the grieving child, and teaches the classmates crucial skills in helping others through loss. A teacher or other adult should arrange small groups of children to visit for brief periods of time under supervision of school staff or a parent. Children can be taught appropriate conduct for shiva visits and which topics should be discussed or avoided. This is a valuable opportunity for parents to teach children that we do not need to feel that we must “fix” our friend’s tragedy or take away their pain – simply being present and showing that we care for them is inherently helpful.
Leah Nadler, social worker at Chai4Ever
Bear in mind that the purpose of a classmate attending a levaya is to show support and/or to assist the classmate in grieving, if they had a special connection to the niftar. A classmate should only attend a levaya if it serves one or both of these purposes. Attending for curiosity’s sake or due to an exaggerated feeling of closeness created by the tragedy, would not be appropriate.
Any child attending a levaya should be prepared in advance for the proceedings and reminded that they do not need to stay for the entire funeral if they become uncomfortable.
School staff who will be missing work to attend the levaya need to consider the following: Is the benefit to the child/family of the niftar worthwhile, compared to the impact of my absence from school? Who needs my presence more — the grieving child, or the classmates who have just learned of the loss? The answers will vary based on the staff member’s position, the structure of the school, and the relationship with the individual child.
Leah Nadler, social worker at Chai4Ever