A Ministry of Care by Dr. Daniel G. Bagby

Pastoral Care Guidance for Deacons, Stephen Ministers, and the Congregation of River Road Church, Baptist

Care of Children in Grief

General Principles:

  1. Death education (thanatology): Should occur at each stage of childhood.
  2. Create a caring relationship (children suffer more from loss of parental support than from the death itself).
  3. Questions are often asked not so much for information, but to process reality.
  4. Sensitivity and warmth/ communication of acceptance/ desire to understand.
  5. Any child mature enough to love is mature enough to grieve.
  6. Factors influencing a child’s response: developmental age of child, relationship with the person, nature of the death, the child’s personality, availability of support, former experiences with death.
  7. Common childhood responses to grief:
    • lack of display of feelings
    • physiological changes
    • regression/”adult” role
    • disorganization & panic
    • explosive emotions
    • acting-out behaviors
    • fear/guilt/self-blame
    • relief (extended crisis)
    • loss/emptiness/sadness
    • reconciliation
  8. Skills in caregiving: Attending/acknowledging/listening/responding with empathy/paraphrasing/perception checking/pacing/questioning/summarizing (see Alan Wolfelt, Helping Children Cope with Grief).
  9. Tell-A-Story exercise.

Grief can also be:

  1. Ambiguous (MS, Alzheimer’s, Mental Illness)
  2. Anticipated (Separation, move)
  3. Arrested or Inhibited (somatic symptoms)
  4. Delayed / Conflicted / Chronic
  5. Disenfranchised Grief (AIDS, Abortion, Suicide, Rape)
  6. Unanticipated (Accident, Homicide)

Caregiving issues:

  1. Make sure you do your own grieving.
  2. Examine your own foundational attitudes/beliefs about grief/death.
  3. Gather grief information/resources.
  4. Be prepared for the intimacy of sharing someone else’s grief.
  5. Recognize our limits: know when to introduce/refer.
  6. Let the griever teach you about her/his grief road.
  7. Know that you are not alone.