Practical Resources for Kids Dealing with Death
Low- to no-cost bereavement support for you and your kids
Finding practical resources for bereaved children is as difficult as it is necessary, and as a Solo Mom, it can be tough to work outside the framework of a normative childhood. Death and childhood are not supposed to go together; yet all too often, they do.
You want to provide access to support for your child; however, you must also respond to the daily barrage of responsibilities you routinely handle. In addition to all that, you are also grieving. Those factors may collectively compound an overwhelming sense of loss and isolation.
Keep in mind that children mourn death in different ways. Their coping mechanisms differ according to their age and stage of development. Younger children are more likely to engage in play to understand the course of grief. They may act out fantasies that help them change the outcome or relive it. Children are adaptive and have developing coping mechanisms, so permitting them to experience their loss will ensure that they integrate their experience in a positive way. Children also sometimes struggle to share their grief and may even internalize it. Sometimes grieving children who are very quiet harbor grief that runs deep (like still waters that give the illusion of being shallow); yet they live in a death-denying culture where all aspects of childhood are supposed to reflect innocence—when death creeps in, so do the questions.
Because of that, bereaved children have a natural need to talk about their experience of loss in a supportive environment. If such an environment is not provided, they may begin to act out. Children in middle school sometimes speak about feeling lonely in peer groups, and they don’t always know how to convey their experience to peers who haven’t experienced bereavement or loss.
Young children and their “resilience” can sometimes be overstated—they grieve, too—so it’s useful to provide ways for them to talk and identify outlets for their questions and sorrow. See this video produced by Sesame Street for communication ideas that can help families with bereaved children, and additional information is available for the children of US military service men and women who died as the result of combat or a traumatic or stress-related injury.
Adolescents, on the other hand, often struggle with feelings of anger and incomprehension. Opportunities to talk to them about their grief can be stalled because of the parent’s urgency to speak to the younger children in the family. The older kids may fixate on a lack of fairness. They may become more withdrawn. It is advisable to address their grief in both the short and the long term.
Bereavement camps for teens can provide truly wonderful support. Solo Moms and their children may stand to gain particular benefit. From the perspective of a Solo Mom, expert eyes on a teenager after the death of a loved one or family trauma can be very reassuring. In addition, if the Solo Mom is also grieving, this may give her some space to navigate her own grief during the quiet time while the children are away.
The fact remains, though, that talking to children about death and trauma is hard.
Fortunately, there are camps that specialize in helping bereaved children. While they offer groups in a supportive setting, they also work to build a shared community. For children who attend such camps, their experience is no longer outside the norm, and they often find relief by developing friendships with peers who understand their experience of loss.
Here are some camps for your consideration. They differ in subtle ways, so make sure to look closely at the age group targeted, offerings, and other factors that would influence your selection. One must apply to attend, but the camps are often free of charge for children who qualify:
Comfort Zone Camp is a nonprofit organization that provides services to children and teens aged seven to 17 who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver. Its camps are offered year-round across the country.
Camp Erin, created and sponsored by The Moyer Foundation, offers weekend-long camps nationwide for children and teens aged six to 17 who have experienced the death of someone close to them.
Camp Courage is offered by Columbia Montour Hospice for children and teens aged seven to 18 who have experienced the death of someone close to them.
For a list of more regional services, take a look at New York Life Foundation’s map of many local camps and service providers. Enter your state in the drop-down menu for a list of services in your area that specialize in childhood bereavement. In addition to camps and bereavement resources, New York Life Foundation has a list of books on the subject of death, those geared toward teens and those geared toward children and families.
For more information on childhood bereavement, including numerous accounts and articles by experts, visit New York Life Foundation’s programs on childhood bereavement.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.