Supporting Grieving Children

Experience Camps are one-week camps for boys and girls who are grieving over the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver.  It’s a place where kids can laugh, cry, play, create, remember the person who died, or forget the grief that weighs them down.  It’s a place where they can feel “normal”, because everyone there has been through something similar and understands what it’s like to lose someone important to them. It’s a home away from home. And just about everyone will tell you…”It’s the best week of the year”.

As our campers settle back into their school year routines, they often tell us that the kids and adults back home just don’t “get it”. We asked our campers what they want their teachers to know. This is what they told us… Please share with anyone who might be working with a grieving child this year!

To Caring Adults

This year, you will be working with or caring for a grieving child. Children tell us that there are often well-meaning adults in their lives who don’t really understand what they’re going through, so this letter is intended to give you a small window into what they experience. Here are a few things to know about grieving children:

• Most kids just want to feel normal. Children who have had a parent, sibling or primary caregiver die can feel very different from their peers, and that can be isolating.
• School or community events that require parent involvement can be really hard when a parent has died.
• Even if a death happened a long time ago, the child is still grieving. Grief does not follow a straight path and there is no end. It can flare up at different times of year or may be triggered by a memory.  School assignments related to family or a child’s past can become triggers.
• Grief can make it hard to concentrate. Allowing the child to take breaks, listen to music, or write in a journal may help. You can even ask the child “what helps when you’re feeling sad or thinking about your mom/dad/sibling/etc?”.
• Transitional periods and stress can also trigger grief.  A child who is making a big decision may long for the parent who is not there to advise them. A difficult social situation might make them miss a parent or sibling who could comfort them or help them solve problems.

What can you do to support a grieving child?

• Listen without judgement. Grieving children need a trusted adult to talk to and confide in.
• Set clear limits. Grieving children are still children. They find safety in structure and clearly defined expectations.
• Find out what helps. All children grieve differently. Speak with the parent or caregiver or ask the child to find out what they want you to know and what helps them get through difficult times.
• Facilitate Connections. Grief can make children feel alone, so try to find ways to highlight shared experiences and similarities with other kids to help them feel connected to their peers.

To learn more about supporting grieving children, there are excellent resources at www.dougy.org/grief-resources/. Thank you for your care and support of all children, and for recognizing the individual needs of grieving children.

Experience Camps

Experience Camps is a national non-profit organization that provides free, one-week camps for children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver.

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