Here’s How to Help a Child Cope with Loss, According to NYC Grief Counselors

STATEN ISLAND, NY — When a family experiences the loss of a loved one, everyone grieves in their own way and time — an important thing to understand, especially when recognizing grief in children, according to local counselors.

The way grief looks in a child may be different than when an adult is grieving, explains Karen Goldman, founder and executive director of Emma’s Place, a Livingston-based nonprofit that provides grief counseling for children through individual or group sessions and other activities. services.

“They have their own unique relationship with that person who died,” Goldman said. “And they grieve in their own way, in their own time. So a husband and wife cannot grieve in the same way or at the same time. So people are scattered.”

But it’s important to note how a child grieves and how a parent or caregiver can help that child.

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the organization, located in Cottage D on the grounds of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, offered bereavement services to children in a variety of ways.

It’s an important service that was incredibly important during the health crisis, according to Goldman, explaining that the global disaster has caused grief on many levels.

“I think one of the things the pandemic has done was broaden the definition of loss,” said Dr. Carolyn Taverner, Program Director and Co-Founder of Emma’s Place. “So children who may have been mourning the death of a loved one were now mourning the loss of seeing their friends or their grandparents. The loss of going to school or the loss of normalcy and routine.”

About 8,600 children in New York City have lost a parent or caregiver to the coronavirus, according to a recent report.

Taverner explained that grief as a child is “very hard to deal with.” That’s why Emma’s Place usually sees children later in their grieving process, she said.

“Because cognitively it takes a while for them to understand what’s happening,” she said. “And then you have to hope that someone talked to them and told them what was going on, and didn’t condone it, or leave it in some kind of vague metaphor.”

If a child has experienced loss, it is important for the family to explain what happened.

Emma’s Place, with a staff of psychologists, social workers, nurses, physician assistants and trained volunteers, is committed to encouraging parents to have difficult conversations with their children after a loss.

“We make a lot of calls with ‘How do I tell my child?'” Taverner added.

Often it’s hard for the adult to tell the child and say out loud what happened because it “makes it real” — but kids know something is wrong, Taverner explained. The longer the conversation is postponed, the more anxious the child becomes. Children can also become angry because they know something is wrong and are not told what is going on.

It also leads to a lack of trust between children and their parent or caregiver.

So how does an adult tell a child that a loved one has passed away? Taverner said it’s easier than people think.

“Just Tell Them” [that person] passed away,” she said. “You don’t have to give it more than that. And then you let the questions come out of there.”

And in that grieving process, some young children may struggle more than others and need extra support. What to look for, Taverner said, are the behavioral changes kids will show you before they tell you.

“They don’t have the vocabulary you use for what you feel,” she said. “The numbers will plummet. They suddenly become very introverted or very extroverted. You will see a lot of regressive behavior. Separation anxiety is coming back.”

When those changes fall within the time frame of loss, Taverner said it makes sense for parents and caregivers. But if those changes happen a few years after the loss, most adults don’t associate those changes with grief.

“You’re looking for that change that you can see in your child,” she said. “It’s different. They put out a lot of rationalizations that school was getting harder, or that there’s something going on with bullies at school, so you don’t necessarily associate that connection.”

Therefore, at the beginning of the grieving process, some children seem to be fine. But children protect their families, just as their families protect them.

Taverner explained that Emma’s Place tells parents to cry in front of their children so they can comfort their parents or caregivers, which also teaches them empathy. Plus, it shows kids that it’s okay to show emotions.

“We teach children how to grieve. They’re not born with the knowledge of how, so whatever you show them, it’s how they’ll think it’s appropriate to grieve,” Taverner added. “So if you want them to express themselves, you have to be willing to express yourself, right? And you should be able to. And we can help them express it in the right way… So part of our job is identifying emotions in children and helping them process them appropriately.”

When it comes to teens and young adults, some signs that they are having a hard time include being unmotivated, skipping activities they used to enjoy, or spending time with different groups of kids.

Some can become involved in criminal behavior, alcohol and drugs, Taverner explained.

Those signals among younger children and teens are why Emma’s Place was founded – to help children and their families through the grieving process, through play and art therapy. Individual sessions are available, as well as group sessions, which are held in person at Emma’s Place twice a month.

“Grief is a very isolating feeling,” Goldman said. “It is unique to the individual. It is unique to the relationship you have with that person. So it just works that when they’re in a room with other people their own age and similar, they feel a connection. They feel supported, they don’t feel so isolated.”

Here are some tips from Emma’s Place’s website about helping a grieving child:

  • Create a sense of security for children by showing that you are there to help and guide them.
  • Reassure children that there will always be someone to take care of them.
  • Help children maintain a bond with the deceased (for example, think of special ways to commemorate or honor the person, such as making a keepsake box or planning a memorial).
  • Encourage children to talk about the person and create a space where they feel comfortable talking about both the positive and negative aspects of the deceased.
  • Respect each child’s coping style and each child’s own grief timetable to help the child feel that his/her grief is validated.
  • Help children make sense of and learn from their experiences.
  • Help children break their grief into manageable segments so they don’t become overwhelmed.
  • Let children express their feelings and continue to reassure them that any feeling they have is okay.
  • Help children realize that loss is not something that has been ‘conquered’, but coping with loss is the process of learning how to integrate the loss into a new lifestyle.

Here are some of the steps to get help at Emma’s Place.

  1. A parent or guardian can call 347-850-2322 and a staff member will ask for basic information about your family and the deceased. You fill in a short family application and all questions about Emma’s Place can be answered. If you need advice about grieving children or teens, the program director will contact you.
  2. Upon request, you and your family can tour the center, meet the staff and program, discuss participation requirements, and ask questions.
  3. After the orientation, your family will discuss participation. If you are interested, please fill in the appropriate forms and return them.
  4. When Emma’s Place has received the completed forms, an employee will call you about the vacancies. You and your child/teenager will be invited to the appropriate group meeting.

For more information, registration and any changes, please call Emma’s Place at 347-850-2322. You can also send an email to info@statenislandgriefcenter.com.

SUPPORT EMMA’S PLACE

As a non-profit, Emma’s Place relies on donations and grants.

It’s hosting a fundraiser for “A Walk to Remember” at Clove Lakes Park on Saturday, June 4 at 9 a.m. to help raise money. Visit emmasplacesi.org to access the registration form.

You can also visit emmasplacesi.org/donate to make a donation to the organization.

WE WANT TO SHARE YOUR STORIES

Staten Island is full of unique and unusual stories, especially among the neighborhood’s school-age community.

We want to profile special students as well as programs that help Staten Island youth.

Our most recent unique story focused on Emma’s Place and the services it provides to children in Staten Island, especially during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

We also visited the student-run Curtis Closet, at Curtis High School in St. George, where free dresses, gowns, menswear, shoes and more are provided to the school community.

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