Addressing grief and fostering resilience in children

Categories: Opinion.

Lanise Shortell serves her local community as a perinatal and paediatric hospice nurse in Atlanta, Georgia and facilitates family centered grief groups biannually at Camp STARS, a family bereavement camp outside of Atlanta. She speaks internationally to spiritual leaders on the importance of family grief support to enhance communities around the world. A motor vehicle accident that took Lanise’s family when she was just 4 years old has become her vehicle to passionately address the importance of family focused grief care as she supports family units throughout the world.  

In this latest ICPCN Blog post Lanise writes that people often comfort themselves with the belief that grieving children are resilient. She writes that when a child experiences a significant loss, simply relying on children to possess internal coping mechanisms to process significant loss increases the likelihood that emotional health will be adversely affected.

In the light of statistics which report that 1 in 4 children experience the death of a parent and or sibling prior to the age of 2, we need to pay attention to these children and allow room for them to express their emotions. “Resilience is not a tool we instinctively possess or inherit. 

Childhood resilience is a tool that is purposely crafted, fostered, and nurtured,” says the author. 

In the blog Lanise warns of the danger of ‘remaining silent about loss’, believing that this is protecting the child from the pain. However, studies show that silencing suffering only increases suffering. She writes, “Verbal and nonverbal disregard of developmentally appropriate communication further confounds childhood loss. Unaddressed grief is gut wrenching, spews sideways, and spills over into every facet of life. We cannot safeguard our children from loss. We can, however, normalize the emotional processes surrounding loss shielding our young from experiencing invisibility.”

Practical advice and tips on ways to open up the channels of communication and foster emotionally safe environments where children are allowed to express their sorrow is given and expanded upon. These include:

  1. Not projecting expectations of others onto a grieving child
  2. Being a calm and abiding presence while sharing your own feelings in an honest way.
  3. Encouraging children to participate in counselling and support groups where to decrease feelings of isolation.
  4. Providing creative outlets for children to process their grief.
  5. Avoiding platitudes and clichés that can dismiss and discourage the expression of emotions.
  6. Nourishing the body through good food and sufficient rest.
  7. Feeling free to speak the name of the deceased loved one.

Lanise reminds readers that loss is experienced across all cultures, religions, demographics, and ages. “It is time to open the dialogue with our children, our family members, and friends about loss. It is time to honour those we have lost,” she says.

Click here to read the full article on the ICPCN website.

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