The Executive Director of the National Alliance for Grieving Children, Andy McNiel, joins Drs. Gloria and Heidi Horsley to talk about the organization and how to help bereaved children. Understanding that grief is an integral, personal and transitional part of life is critical. McNiel says understanding how grief impacts kids is key. There used to be a belief that children didn’t grieve because 1) they weren’t old enough and 2) many children hide their grief in order to protect their parents. In the past few decades, it’s been “discovered” that kids are capable of grief.
Alan Pedersen, the Executive Director of The Compassionate Friends, also joins the conversation to talk about how critical grief is to a child’s life. When a child loses someone, the grief/reaction becomes part of who they will become. Grief is also a developmental process and can be more impactful on the young. However, it’s a developmental process that can affect someone at any age. How a child handles grief, or is taught to, can make an impact on the rest of their life.
Unfortunately, many adults don’t know how to talk to children about grief—so they may not talk about it at all. There are many methods to helping children address grief, and psychologist support is often necessary. Art and play therapy can also be exceptionally helpful for children. The goal is to make children feel better, and that can come at the risk of not normalizing grief. Adults want to make children smile, but both people are going through a transitional grief.
The process of transitioning, or moving from one thing to another, is a skill that needs to be learned. When someone is no longer with us in a physical way, transition is necessary.