Helping Children Express Grief

Recently I was reading an article about children, grief and trauma. Specifically referring to how a trauma may cause children to have difficulty with speech. I want to share a few ideas that may help.

As adults, sometimes we are not the best at communicating effectively with children or interpreting their needs especially when children will not talk about something. What if the child is unable to get across to adults what they feel or need?

The age of the child and no prior frame of reference to refer to may be barriers to a child’s communication ability. You may wonder, what are some things you can do as a parent, care taker or grandparent to help a child express how they are feeling.

An idea to consider may be the use of toys. Sometimes, when a child is busy doing something their thoughts go elsewhere and they may share some concerns with you which they would not do if you asked a question while sitting across from them at a table.

Perhaps, asking the child to draw how they are feeling today on a paper using coloured markers or crayons. This can be done with the child drawing a face which shows how they feel such as happy, sad etc. Do not force your expectations of how the picture “should” look.

Sometimes the colours a child uses may an indicator to what they are feeling, but not always. You may have to ask the child what a specific colour refers to. Black is not necessarily a “dark” or “ominous” colour and pink may not be a “happy” colour. Ask the questions, do not assume.

Another idea is to have the child draw a heart shape and in this shape ask the child to show you how much is happy and how much is sad. This can be an indication of how they are feeling today and then done again at a later date. Let the child determine the choice of colours.

Feelings are personal and children feel loss, but may not have a venue or the ability to express it in a manner you understand. They may not have the words to use. Fear or trauma can cause a child to shut down or forget what worked for them before.

I remember a professional who worked with children sharing a story of a young child who saw a close friend killed by a car. This child was not doing well, hence the reason for the professional counsellor.

This child drew pictures of circles with a smaller scribble in the centre on multiple pages during every visit. The professional could not figure it out until one day the parents were shown the many pages of circles with dots in the middle. The parents knew right away what this was.

The child was traumatised to the point of now being nonverbal, but could draw. The drawings were the eyes of the deceased child looking back at the friend who was now in counselling. The child could not stop seeing the friend’s eyes.

That is what can happen to anyone. It is important for the trauma to be expressed somehow and to seek professional help if needed.