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When Children Must Grieve

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Father Steven Boes, Boys Town National Executive Director 

When Children Must Grieve

Recently at Boys Town, our kids went through the sad, painful experience of losing one of their friends and fellow residents. The young man who passed away was well liked, a good student and a good athlete, and on his way to a bright future. His death was a shock to our boys and girls, not only because of its suddenness but also because most young people are not prepared to deal with the loss of someone their own age.

We don’t usually think of grieving as a social skill. But like many things teens and preteens aren’t able to do because they haven’t been exposed to certain life experiences, grieving is a behavior that must be learned, both through teaching and actually experiencing the emotions it brings.

At Boys Town, counselors, teachers, and caregivers met with students to help them through this tough time. Students cried, prayed as individuals and as a group, and attended a memorial service for their friend and “brother.”

We also gave our students some concrete behaviors for how to grieve and how to take care of themselves. These behaviors make up the following skill:

How to Grieve the Death of a Loved One or Friend

  1. Find a trusted person to talk to and express your feelings.  You may find yourself laughing one moment and crying or angry the next.  Everyone grieves in their own way.
  2. Gather pictures and other objects that remind you of the person who died and create a memorial for him or her in your room.  Make a pledge to change your life in a positive way as a living and lasting memorial to the person’s influence on your life.
  3. Tell a friend some positive stories about the person who died. Or express your feelings about the person artistically by painting or drawing a portrait, writing a poem, or singing a song.
  4. Make sure you eat (you need energy to grieve), drink plenty of water (crying can dehydrate you), and get enough sleep (dreaming is necessary in dealing with death).
  5. Attend the funeral or religious services and view the body of your friend or loved one in the casket. If this is not possible, continue to pray for the person and his or her family.
  6. Try to resume your normal routine as quickly as possible (going to school or work, socializing with friends, enjoying fun activities, etc.).

Unfortunately, death is a part of life and your children will eventually experience the loss of someone close to them. This will be one of the most difficult parenting tasks you will ever face. We suggest that you have conversations with your children about this topic and teach the skill of grieving so they will be better prepared, emotionally and physically, when those times come. (You may even want to take your child to the funeral of someone like a family friend whom the child does not know very well; that way, your child can see what happens during a service and observe how other people behave.)

Sadness and heartache dominate our emotions when a loved one or friend passes away. But grieving appropriately helps us remember and focus our attention on the positive things about our loved one, gives us a healthy way to express our feelings of sadness and loss, and provides us with an opportunity to grow stronger in our faith in God.

For more information regarding the loss of a loved one visit our Parenting Site.