Supporting Children in Grief & through Donation
Supporting children through grief can be a daunting and cause anxiety. Understanding the developmental stages and how to focus the communication can be helpful.
Pace yourself, pause the conversation, and know you can return to this conversation over time.
Developmental Stages & Ages
Birth – 2 Years
- No understanding of death
- No words for feelings
- Notices changes in family emotions and routines
How to help: Meet needs, maintain routines, offer physical contact
3 – 5 Years
- No understanding of permanence of death
- May wonder what will happen if other parent dies
- Magical thinking and fantasies may be worse than reality
How to help: Patient with regressive behaviors, repetitive questions, and emotions, simple & truthful answers
6 – 9 Years
- Understands death is final
- His / Her thoughts, actions, or words caused the death
- Interested in biology of death
How to help: Answer questions truthfully, peer & education support
9 – 12 Years
- Processing their own milestones without their loved one
- Developing a death and spiritual awareness
How to help: Expect and accept mood swings, encourage expression of some sort
- May sense own impending death
- Internal conflict about dependence and independence
- Need to be in control of their own feelings
How to help: Allow regressive behavior, hidden feelings, and mood swings, watch for high risk behavior
- Be concrete, honest, and age-appropriate.
- Share what has happened in a concrete, simple manner.
- Provide a simple explanation of death.
- Remember to avoid euphemisms.
- Be open to questions.
- Remember that younger children have had less exposure to what death means.
- Answer only the questions that a child has asked.
- Children will have many different reactions (and they are all okay!).
Talking about Donation with Children
- Gather information from nursing/ancillary staff.
- Arrange a quiet moment with a parent in a comfortable room.
- Things to consider:
- Parents are experts of their children.
- We are another stranger.
- Information is best shared by parent or someone the child loves and trusts.
- Location of conversation is important.
- Timing of conversation is important.
- Build rapport – books, coloring, etc.
- Provide small bits of information at a time.
Taken from a webinar presentation by Ashlei Brooks MSW, LICSW (Donor Family Aftercare Program Manager, LifeCenter Northwest, WA), Nettie Jensen CCLS (Donation and Family Advocate, LifeCenter Northwest), and Valerie Maury CDC, NCAC II (Family Support Specialist, LifeCenter Northwest). Special thanks to Ms. Brooks, Ms. Jensen, and Ms. Maury for their contributions to this inservice.
The webinar presentation “Supporting Children through the Donation Process” is available through the Alliance Academy: https://organdonationalliance.org/alliance-academy/
The Invisible String – Patrice Karst
A Terrible Thing Happened – Margaret M. Homes
When Dinosaurs Die – A Guide to Understanding Death – Laurie Krasny Brown & Marc Brown
Badger’s Parting Gifts – Susan Varley
I Miss You – A First Look at Death – Pat Thomas
The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein
Straight Talk About Death for Teenagers – How to Cope with Losing Someone You Love – Earl A. Grollman
Draw It Out (journal) – An Art with Heart Publication
Ink About It (journal ) – An Art with Heart Publication
Fire in My Heart, Ice in My Veins – A journal for teenagers experiencing a loss – A Centering Corporation Resources – Enid Samuel-Traisman
Editor: Hedi Aguiar, Senior Director of Programs, The Alliance, email@example.com.
This Education Corner is available for download. The Alliance grants permission for the distribution and reproduction of this educational communication.