One in 11 Missouri children, and one in 13 nationally, will lose a parent or sibling by age 18.
Childhood grief that is not dealt with can have short and long-term negative effects, including school problems, mental health issues, and even a shortened life span.
Becky Byrne, founder and executive director of Annie’s Hope, The Center for Grieving Kids in Glendale, explained kids grieve differently than adults, so it is not always obvious when they are struggling. She emphasized anyone can help a grieving child if they can overcome their fear and discomfort. “And if you can’t figure out what to say, just simply say, ‘I want to be able to help you, I do not know what to say.’ You don’t have to be a trained professional,” Byrne explained. “All you have to be is human and willing to open up yourself to hear somebody else’s pain.”
During eight-session family support groups, she noted Annie’s Hope pairs children with their peers and adults with adults. Byrne pointed out death affects the whole family system, and adults can learn about ways to best help their children at home.
Cindy Izzo, school support and education coordinator for the organization who facilitates the six-week school-based program, said it is especially important for kids who are not attending a grief support group outside of school, and it provides additional training for school professionals. “We are showing the kids in the school that they are not the only one who is grieving,” Izzo stressed. “Really, our group of participants is just the tip of the iceberg. So then, we’re also connecting the students to the adults in the school who will provide that ongoing support for them.”
Byrne added peers who are experiencing the death of a loved one can be immensely helpful to each other. “When you find somebody who’s your contemporary — who this makes total sense to, and they can validate you — that makes it like, ‘Oh well, if that person can do it, maybe I can do it.’ You immediately get this head start if it’s a peer,” Byrne stated.
For grieving families unable to attend an in-person support group, Byrne suggested virtual groups can also be helpful.
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