Q: I’m seeing more children in my practice who’ve experienced traumatic loss, such as a family death caused by COVID. How can I best help them?
A: Kate Atwood, the founder of Kate’s Club, an organization devoted to helping children cope with grief, says grief isn’t the enemy: unresolved grief is. As a therapist who works with children struggling with grief, as well as a regular volunteer at Kate’s Club, I’ve seen firsthand how family and child therapists can make a positive impact with grieving children and their families. Kate’s Club provides a safe space for children to talk about their grief when a parent or sibling dies; it also provides a physical place for them to connect with other children working through loss. Even if there isn’t a peer-support organization like this in your area, you can do certain things to help kids process their grief and feel heard.
Children grieve differently from adults. How they process it is impacted by the nature of the death, as well as by their age, developmental stage, life experiences, and how the adults around them model coping with grief. Children also move in and out of grief—called grief spurts—and need to handle their grief in small doses. It’s not unusual for young children to express sadness about losing a parent and then minutes later go out to play with friends.
Of course, talking with children about death isn’t easy; it can be uncomfortable for even the…