When Families Grieve™: Family Support
Resources from Sesame
Like many families, yours may face different challenges that
affect your everyday life. Somehow you rise to overcome them,
working together. Now you are facing an enormous challenge: the
death of your loved one. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational
organization behind Sesame
Street, would like you to know you are not alone. They have
created When Families Grieve to support you
and your grieving children during this time. This is an outreach
initiative that provides free resources to support families with
young children, in the military and general public, coping with the
death of a loved one. There are multiple resources for children and
grownups, including video content, a children's story, parent and
caregiver guides, and additional links to helpful
Discover which of the following sections might be most useful
and choose the ideas that best suit your family's situation:
- Sharing and
Explores children's understanding of death and strategies you can
use for communicating with them.
- Finding Comfort
Presents ideas to help you and your children cope with emotions
Provides inspiration and reassurance throughout the day.
Explaining What Happened
Your child may need concrete explanations of what death is. For
example, in a gentle way, you might say, "When a person dies, his
or her body stops working. The heart stops beating and the body
stops moving, eating, and breathing."
Sometimes, young children may not understand that death is
permanent and will ask questions like, "When is Daddy coming back?"
or make statements like, "I am going to show Mommy my new picture."
Continue to be concrete in your explanation. Use words like "died"
and "dead," rather than "went to sleep," "your loss," or "passed
away." While these phrases may seem gentler, they may also be
confusing. Since young children often think literally, they may
assume, for instance, that if others look hard enough, a "lost"
parent could be found.
For some help with explaining death to your child, watch the
video "Talking About Uncle Jack"
and use the conversation between Elmo and his dad as a model
discussion. Maybe use the same format as below:
Watch Together: "Talking About Uncle
Talk Together: What did Elmo's dad tell Elmo
about the death of Uncle Jack?
Letting Emotions Out
Children may experience a wide range of feelings - anger,
sadness, hopelessness, disappointment, confusion, loneliness,
guilt, worry - but they may not always have the words to identify
these emotions. Assure your child over and over that everyone,
including yourself, has big feelings, and there are no feelings too
big - or too little - to talk about.
Watch Together: Give Your Heart a Little
Together: What feelings did Elmo and Jesse express
in the song?
- Using dolls and puppets, make up stories and act out feelings
with your child. Drawing pictures could be a great way for younger
children to communicate. For older children, writing in a journal
may be helpful. Download the Feelings Journal and use
it as a way to help everyone in your family express emotions.
- If necessary, provide an outlet for your children to express
anger or frustration. You might allow them to run outside, or give
them Play-Doh™ to pound on,
beanbags to throw, or musical instruments with which to create
noise. Listening to slow, soothing music and taking deep breaths
can also help children feel more calm and relaxed.
- Above all, take time to listen. This will help you know where
to lead the conversation. While you can't take away your children's
difficult thoughts and feelings, you can make sure they know that
you're listening to them.
Together: Expressing Emotions
Together: What types of things do you do to express
Communicating and Connecting as a Family
There are many ways you and your family can connect with each
other during these difficult times. Try some of these ideas:
- Some children may not want to talk about what happened right
away; other children may want to talk to everyone about their
feelings. The truth is that every person in your family may have a
different way of communicating their feelings. Create a time and
place for sharing and talking. For example, you might sit with your
children and say, "I'm feeling_______. How are you feeling?" You
might also want to download the Caring Cards and use them
with your children to find strength as a family.
- Seek help from family, friends, and community ("Uncle Joey can
take you to the park today" or "Cousin Emily can help with your
homework"). Reassure your child that no one can ever take the place
of the parent who died and that others want only to help your
family. Your children may be able to open up to a favorite aunt or
uncle or an older cousin or sibling.
- Some of the strategies that helped you express your feelings
may be useful for your children, too. For example, you could let
your child see you cry, or even cry together. Explain why you are
crying. Reassure her that you are just feeling sad, that you are
all right, and that it sometimes helps to let the feelings out in
this way. Remind your child, "Change is hard for everyone, but I'm
still here to love you, and we'll get through this together."
- Sometimes, children's reactions when coping with the death and
absence of a parent can be especially severe. Some common feelings
or behaviors might persist, grow in intensity, or occur more
frequently, signaling a need for extra attention. If your children
experience any concerning difficulties, such as bed-wetting or
nightmares, or display behaviors that may be harmful to themselves
or others, remember that it's OK to seek professional help.
Together: You Can Talk to Me
Together: Which family members can you talk to
about your feelings?
Sharing Memories and Moving Forward
At some point you may notice that you and your family are taking
"grief breaks," or moments when you forget your sadness. Slowly, a
new family story will begin to emerge through your family's ups and
downs. Give yourself and your children permission to feel happy
again. Be assured that the memory of your loved one can live on in
the hearts of your family. Celebrating your loved one's life and
important place in the family can be a meaningful way to begin to
move forward. Here are a few ideas:
- Plan with your child a smaller memorial gathering for close
friends and family. Allow everyone to share memories and stories.
It's OK to share funny memories and laughter, too!
- Listen to or sing a favorite song or eat a favorite meal
dedicated to the memory of your loved one.
- Gather pictures, clothes, or favorite things of your loved one.
Then take turns telling stories or writing about each item to
remind all of you of the good times you shared. You could also
record stories on your video camera or cell phone. Try downloading
the Memory Chain and, as
family, create a handmade remembrance of your loved one.
Watch Together: The Memory Box
Talk Together: What would you put in a memory