Contrary to previously held views, we now know that children grieve significant losses in their lives just as intensely as adults and we are here to help.
In grief, all of us, no matter our age, become an exaggerated version of ourselves. If we are extroverted, we become more so and the same is the case if we are quiet and withdrawn. Children are no different to adults. In addition, we all tend to feel much more vulnerable when we are grieving. This doesn’t mean we become childish but often require special help and care, just as we did earlier in our lives. Similarly, children will regress, and their reactions and behaviour may be more like they were when they were much younger.
There are three important things we know will help children learn to live with grief and remain connected to life. The first is access to the truth. They need to know they can ask any question without fear of reprimand or of being ignored or patronised. Knowing that ‘in this family’, in ‘this situation’ they will be given truthful answers, albeit in an age appropriate manner, helps them retain trust in important adults in their lives, and in life in general.
The second is inclusion. Grieving children need to be included as much as possible in what is happening in the family. For example, being given the opportunity to spend time with the person they love who is dying or who has died, attending the funeral, and other rituals involving the family can help the child understand what death means and ensure they feel part of all that is happening.
The third important foundation for their future is having a loving, understanding adult who can make them feel safe and secure. Children need to receive confident reassurance from a trusted adult that, despite the distress they are feeling now, everything and everyone will be OK in the long term. If a surviving parent is not able to provide this, either because of their own grief, or for any other reason, it is important that another safe, familiar person is able to take on this role, until the parent can do so themselves. A sensitive grandparent, other relative or close friend may need to fill this role for a time, without usurping the role of parents, or making them feel inadequate.
Not all bereaved children need counselling. However, any concern over a child’s behaviour following the death of someone close to them, may mean appropriate professional help, advice and reassurance could be helpful. Grief as a reaction to significant life events, the death of a loved person in particular, is one of life’s most painful experiences. During these times, most of us find benefit in compassionate understanding and support. This is what the NCCG provides in a variety of ways: face to face counselling, email or phone support, and written material.
'A Friend's Place' (Sydney, Australia) offers free bereavement counselling for children aged 3-18 who have had a loved one die. To find out more, contact us.
Our Peter Coupland Adventure program is an important and special adjunct to our regular counselling programs.
Currently, we run one girls, and one boys Adventure weekend each year, where bereaved children can meet other children who understand what they are going through. Through a combination of different Adventure experiences, group activities and discussion, having fun and relaxing together, the children find these weekends help them feel less alone and more able to live with their grief.
Peter Coupland was a significant contributor and friend of the National Centre for Childhood Grief, working as a counsellor and a member of the NCCG board.
On May 1, 2015 he died at the age of 49.
Peter was known for his inspirational work and influence in the area of bereavement.
Peter Coupland was a valued and dearly loved counsellor, friend, colleague and Board Member of the NCCG over a period of 15 years until his untimely death from leukaemia in 2015.
Physically strong and emotionally courageous, Peter was an adventurer.
Introducing Adventure Weekends, as part of the Centre’s overall program for young people, Peter’s hope was that every child who took part would be encouraged to confront their fears and build resilience.
Himself a bereaved child, Peter was a great role model, demonstrating how to be engaged in life, despite living with the pain of early loss.
When deciding on a suitable memorial to honour Peter’s contribution to the Centre and to life, the words ‘dynamic, fun, wholesome, challenging, stimulating, safe, sensitive, a true friend, inspiring and thoughtful’ came to mind.