Children’s Grief Awareness: TAPS Support and Resources
Author: Andy McNiel
Note: This article was first published on November 1, 2022 for Child Grief Awareness Month and is republished here for Children's Grief Awareness Week: November 16 to 22, 2023.
November is Children's Grief Awareness Month. Here at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), we recognize this important time of year in support of our bereaved children, teenagers, and families. TAPS has been an active part of the children's grief awareness movement for the past several decades, and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the adults in the lives of bereaved military children and teenagers have a better understanding of the impact loss has on them. Here are two reasons why we should all stand in solidarity with bereaved children, teenagers, and their families this time of year and promote awareness of their needs.
Bereaved Children and teenagers need the adults in their lives to see them and acknowledge their grief. When my kids were young, wherever we were–at the pool, in the backyard, at the park–as they played, they would shout out over and over, “Hey, dad! Watch this!” They wanted me to see them dive into the water, swing high on the swing set, or some other challenging feat they were undertaking. It is normal for children (and teenagers) to want the adults in their lives to see them and to validate their experiences.
This is the same when it comes to their internal pain, outward struggles, and experiences of grief. The difference is that children and teenagers are not often saying to their adults, “Hey, look at me,” or, “See my grief.” Sometimes, children and teenagers will not fully understand how their grief is impacting their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. More than ever, they need the adults in their lives saying to them, “I see that you are angry,” or “I see that you are sad,” or “I see that you are grieving.” Children and teenagers need us to acknowledge that we see the grief that is behind their behavior. Seeing your children’s grief and acknowledging their experiences will go a long way to building a trusting bond with them as they walk through the many challenges that accompany grief.
Bereaved children and teenagers need the adults in their lives to validate their grief experiences. Children and teenagers also seek the approval of their parents. When they say, “Watch this!” They are watching our reactions to what they are doing or saying. Children and teenagers may not know what is normal when grieving the death of someone in their lives. It is helpful when the adults in their lives validate what they are experiencing and how they are coping with their grief. There are many ways that children and teenagers may experience grief, including sadness, anger, anxiety, loss of concentration, feelings that things do not matter like they used to, or withdrawing from friends and family. Some children and teenagers are more open with their feelings, while others are more reserved. Whatever way children and teenagers feel most comfortable being with their grief and expressing their grief, having our validation that what they are experiencing is normal under the circumstances will help them to cope with all of the challenges grief brings to their lives. When we validate their experience, it opens the door for the adults in their lives to offer guidance and accountability for their actions.
So, this November, let’s stand in solidarity with our children and teenagers grieving the death of an important person in their lives. Grief is a life-long journey for them and walking this road with the adults in their lives is an important part of coping. Recognize that, though they may not always acknowledge it, the children and teens in your life need you to see them, acknowledge their pain, and validate their grief experiences. Grief awareness month reminds us the importance of seeing, acknowledging, and validating what our children and teenagers are going through when they are grieving.
Children and Teen Grief Resources
TAPS Youth Programs
TAPS offers support programs for children and teenagers grieving the death of a military family member. Led by caring professionals in the fields of child development, grief support, mental health, and education, TAPS Youth Programs provide safe spaces for military children to be supported in their grief while also experiencing fun, adventure, mentorship, and camaraderie.
Free Online Webinars on Children's Grief
The TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing® is positioned to be the national and worldwide leader in training and education for bereavement professionals, bereaved individuals, and grieving military and civilian families. Over the past year, the Institute has shared numerous conversations and workshops focused on Children’s grief. Begin watching them today:
TAPS Resources and Stories on Children’s Grief
Additional Resources on Children’s Grief
National Alliance for Grieving Children
The National Alliance for Children’s Grief (NACG) is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about the needs of children and teens who are grieving a death and provides education and resources for anyone who supports them.
Sesame Street for Military Families
When a loved one dies, it can be incredibly difficult to know how to support children, but there are strategies and steps military families can take to create a space to share, grieve, and celebrate that loved one. Sesame Street partnered with TAPS to help share approaches, strategies, and ideas that surviving military families can use as they navigate their grief journey with their children.
Andy McNiel, MA, is the Senior Advisor, TAPS Youth Programs.
Photos: TAPS Archives