Navigating grief can be extremely challenging, particularly for children and young people who may find themselves overwhelmed by a mix of complex emotions.
This Children Grief Awareness Week, as we raise awareness of the need for professional support for bereaved children and young people, it is essential to acknowledge the difference ‘help’ can make in a child’s grief experience.
Trusted adults play a crucial role in supporting children and young people through grief by providing stability, understanding and a safe space for expression. They can help navigate complex emotions, offer reassurance and facilitate healthy conversations, fostering resilience in the face of loss.
A trusted adult in the context of a child grieving is someone who can provide emotional support, understanding, and guidance during the challenging process of coping with the death of someone close. Trusted adults can come from various roles and relationships in a child’s life and is someone who is emotionally available, empathetic, and capable of providing a supportive environment. It’s important to note that sometimes a child may have multiple trusted adults, and the combination of their support can create a network for them to lean on during their most difficult time.
Parents and guardians are often the primary sources of support for children. Their close connection and existing bond make them crucial figures in the grieving process. Open communication and emotional availability are key factors that can turn parents into trusted adults during times of grief.
Grandparents also share a unique relationship with grandchildren and can offer a sense of generational wisdom and comfort. Their life experiences and often unconditional love can make them reliable sources of support for grieving children.
Teachers spend a significant amount of time with children and can observe changes in behaviour and emotional wellbeing. They are often trained to provide support and may play a vital role in helping children cope with grief, especially when the death affects their academic performance and social interactions.
Siblings, particularly older ones, can be a source of comfort for a grieving child. Shared experiences and a close bond may make siblings well-equipped to offer support and companionship.
Close family friends who share a strong bond with the child and the family can become trusted adults. They may offer an outside perspective, a listening ear, and emotional support.
Individuals outside the family, such as sports coaches or tutors, can become trusted adults. Their role in guiding and supporting the child in areas like academics or extracurricular activities may extend to providing emotional support during times of grief. Often a piano teacher or a football coach can be someone who provides structured routine and some normalcy for the child.
For families with religious or spiritual affiliations, leaders within the community, such as pastors, priests, rabbis, or imams, can play a significant role. These figures may offer spiritual guidance and support in addition to emotional comfort.
Mental health professionals, including counsellors or therapists provide a safe space for children to express their emotions, offer coping strategies, and facilitate the healing process.
Aunts, uncles, and other extended family members who share a close relationship with the child can become trusted adults. Their familial connection and support contribute to the child’s sense of security during a challenging time.
Trusted adults can validate a child’s emotions and normalize the grieving process. By acknowledging that grief is a natural response to death, these adults help children understand that their feelings are valid and acceptable.
Trust is so important for a child’s emotional well-being, and trusted adults create a safe space where they can express their grief openly, and safely. Through active listening, empathy, and non-judgmental support, these adults can provide a secure space for children to share their thoughts.
With the right knowledge about grief and the way it can be displayed in children, educators can guide children and young people through the complexities of their emotions. By imparting age-appropriate information, they help children understand the nuances of grief, enabling them to experience the differing emotions with a greater sense of understanding.
The Pillars of Support:
Trusted adults serve as pillars of support that form the network around the bereaved child or young person, whether a parent, teacher or coach, these individuals play a vital role in creating a safe space where children can express their emotions openly and without judgment. At Grief Encounter, we recognise the profound importance and impact trusted adults can have on a child’s healing, and actively works towards empowering them with the tools and knowledge needed to be effective sources of support. Whether that’s working closely with schools to provide resources and training, or carrying out workshops with siblings and extended family to support and give advice.
Just being present can make an indelible impact. Trusted adults offer their presence as a reassuring constant in times of huge change. We encourage trusted adults to listen, validate, and be present to create a foundation upon which trust, and confidence can build.
Modelling Healthy Behaviours:
Children often learn by example, and trusted adults play an important role in modelling healthy behaviour. By demonstrating resilience, emotional expression, and self-care, trusted adults become examples of hope and healing for children, reassuring them that they too can find comfort in their changing shape of grief.
Creating a Culture of Open Communication:
Trusted adults are the linchpins of open communication within families and communities. By fostering an environment where it’s normal for open conversation about grief, with direct and age-appropriate language, trusted adults contribute to a culture that destigmatizes the topic of death and dying, and promotes understanding.
This Children Grief Awareness Week, we want to highlight the important role trusted adults play in shaping the grief journey for children. Our commitment to supporting all forms of trusted adults, through resources, training, information and guidance, reinforces our dedication to ensuring that no child grieves alone.
By Parminder Sahota, Director of Clinical Services