Death can be difficult for children, and programs like Camp Cocoon, a weekend camp for children ages six to 17 who have experienced the death of a loved one, are invaluable in the ways they can help children process and work through a challenging situation.
According to a study of 1,000 high school juniors and seniors, 90 percent indicated they had experienced the death of a loved one.1 Those losses, especially at a young age, can lead to emotional issues that programs like Camp Cocoon are designed to help relieve.
"Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy, and it's important for children to understand that they are not alone and there are people they can talk to about their feelings," says Christopher Pomar, Executive Director of the PruittCares Foundation, the charitable arm of PruittHealth. "Events like Camp Cocoon help give young people the tools emotionally and spiritually to deal with these devastating changes."
Here are five ways to help children deal with grief:
You may think that being gentle about the subject of death is helpful for children, but saying that a loved one "went away" or "went to sleep" is not the right way to approach the topic. Children are very literal, and those terms can lead to issues and prevent them from developing the ability to cope going forward. Studies show that children can benefit from knowing the truth even in the early stages of development.
Let them express themselves
No matter how children wish to express themselves in the aftermath of a death, let them. Whether it is through questions, play, reading, drawing pictures or anything else that helps the grieving process. Programs like Camp Cocoon give children the chance to meet peers who are going through similar situations. While having fun in a safe environment, they start to feel comfortable sharing their stories and learning from peers.
Create rituals of remembrance
It is essential to make sure children maintain fond memories of their loved ones, and one of the strategies used at Camp Cocoon is discussing and creating rituals of remembrance to aid that cause. Some of the rituals can include lighting a candle in memory of a loved one on special occasions; creating a shadow box with personal items as a small memorial; writing a personal letter to the deceased; or planting a tree or shrub in the person's honor.
Discuss an afterlife
The notion of an afterlife can be comforting to a child, according to experts. If your family has religious beliefs, you should begin to share them after a loss and let children know the lost loved one is in a better place. If your family is not religious, you can still comfort your child by suggesting that their loved one's memory continues to live on among friends and family.
Monitor their progress
While it is appropriate to let children grieve, if you feel you can't adequately address their concerns, places like Camp Cocoon offer a number of experienced volunteer professionals like doctors, chaplains, nurses, administrators, hospice providers and trained caregivers. If you notice your child hasn't recovered from the loss in a healthy way, you should consult with your family physician for next steps.
"No one is ready for the death of a loved one, especially children," says Pomar for PruittHealth. "Spending a weekend at Camp Cocoon gives them an opportunity to be with adults and kids who understand what they are going through, can help them embrace what has happened to them and can show them ways they can move forward."