Stacey Smyczynski of the Children’s Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region talks with Dr. Gloria Horsley about using peer to peer support. Kids ages 5-18 help one another at this center. The adults also have their own support groups to attend when the children meet. There are opening and closing circles where talking and sharing take place, but a lot of the grief work happens in play. There are plays, art, dress up, and more ways children can express themselves. Especially with younger kids, talking isn’t always the best way to heal.
Play is a child’s work, and all is done through play including grief. A child often can’t wait to get to the playroom every time they arrive. Many dads have told Dr. Horsley that the best thing they did with their child was play sports. It’s another avenue for offering support, and where you can learn to share your story. It may not be with words, but stories are shared with action and play.
Support in Grief
Her biggest tip for parents is to connect children with other children. A group for both kids and adults is paramount. Kids need to feel like they belong somewhere, and not like “the one who’s mom died.” Many times, adults think children should be talking to them, but a lot of kids don’t want to put what they see as an added burden on their parents. They might be talking or expressing themselves away from their parents.
It’s highly recommended that adults don’t push children to talk, especially to adults. Kids grieve in their own way, just like everyone else. Make sure you give them opportunities to share, and be available to listen if they’d like. However, pushing kids to grieve a certain way always backfires.