How Do You Help Children With Grief?

Posted by Office Manager on 11/15/2018

It's inevitable that children will face loss. Paving safe pathways for children to express full emotions builds strength of character that allows for each characteristic to be authentic and personal, springing from the honesty of the inner child and unaffected by external adult expectations.

Today, we said our final goodbyes to our horse, Wonder; sweet friend and matriarch of the Keystone pasture. Students were an important part of this meaningful day.

Here are a few practical things we're doing to help the kiddos that can be used anytime to help children process their grief or even just big emotions. Always trust your own instincts about how to address grief appropriately with your kids!

1.) Expression Through Art. So often children are not able to express their emotions in words, but drawing pictures or painting helps them work through it. Be careful to simply observe and not judge. Even if the result is something that feels raw or gritty, it's a natural way to process feelings (this works for adults, too!) Our kids wrote letters, drew pictures, painted rocks, made bracelets, tied ribbons to sticks, and sang songs.

2.) Talk, Listen, and Ask Questions. It's not about having all the right answers, but more about listening and being present. We all sat together in a circle twice: once before the kids got to go say their goodbyes, and again after she had passed. Questions were encouraged, and a range of emotions were experienced (and validated). Eventually the questions even covered topics like, "How did we get the other pasture animals?" or "Why don't we have pigs?" and closed the day with some funny stories and laughter.

3.) Ritual / Ceremony. Whether it is the loss of a pet or special person, participating in the memorial service can be an important way for children to process and understand. We understand some children are highly sensitive and this may not be a good idea for everyone Even something as simple as lighting candles, together in memory of your lost loved one or doing an act of kindness in their honor can accomplish the same thing. Our Wild Things prepared by helping to create Wonder's wooden memorial, even getting to use a saw and a router in the process. Everyone was able to carve out one letter in the wood, and kids were encouraged to speak at the memorial if they wanted to. Some spoke multiple times, some remained quiet, but all were a part of it in a way that they were comfortable.

When children can do this, practice this, and experience the self acceptance of these emotions, their abilities to recover in healthy ways from the inevitable losses in life give them powerful empathy and the desire to seek common ground and greet others with true welcoming.

Keys to joyful life include confidence and willingness to risk trust while building worthwhile relationships. And being able to recover when we experience loss of life or love because we are solid in the intrinsic love that motivates hope.

We also recommend the book:
"Suki and Sam" by Lisa Marotta

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