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Helping Children Deal With Loss
Through the Journaling Process

Katherine Dorn Zotovich

(Page 1 of 2)

Today more and more American families are involved in the care of their loved ones. Often that creates a change in family dynamics, routines, reassigning roles, economic hardships and demands on adult time and emotional stress for all family members involved. The changes taking place can be threatening for children. Change creates loss and loss creates grief. A grieving child needs our reassurance that he/she will be cared for and is loved. 

It is extremely important to listen to your child verbalize their fears, anger, confusion and doubts. We should explain that grief and the feelings it evokes are natural responses to loss. We must encourage our children to let their sadness out by sharing their thoughts, feelings and memories with trusted listeners. We can be a trusted listener by encouraging them to express themselves by drawing, writing and sharing their feelings and thoughts through the process of keeping a journal. Long-term illness impacts family life, especially if your loved one is being cared for at home. Illness can be sudden or it may creep into our loved one’s life in stages as in Alzheimer’s disease. Our loved one may be dealing with the loss of their health, independence and in some cases, ultimately the loss of life. The family will be dealing with these losses as well. The changes associated with the disease are threatening for our loved one, our children and ourselves. Our children need our love and support to help them cope with the grief associated with change and loss. It is important to take the time to discuss the disease with children so they can understand what is happening to their loved one. 

Children and teens may experience a wide range of emotions. All too often, many caregivers are too overwhelmed by their own shock, sadness and grief to notice their children are grieving too. For children, as adults, there is no magic wand in overcoming grief. It is a process and it is as individual as the people going through it. The stages of grief are not linear. There will be ups and downs, peaks and valleys and the inevitable bumps in the road. Shock, denial, anger, regression, guilt, bargaining and finally acceptance are the myriad of emotions that are part of the healing process called grief. 

For some children keeping a journal is a wonderful way to facilitate the grieving process. Encourage them to draw about their feelings. I call this type of drawing, “heart art.” Young children think symbolically rather than with the use of written words. Pictures reveal a child’s thinking. Drawing actually helps children find their words Journal exercises provide opportunities for gentle discussions and can offer insights into a child’s fears and misconceptions. Keeping a journal allows children to creatively express themselves. Use their drawings as a springboard for caring conversations. For older children and teens, writing in a journal gives them permission to record their feelings and emotions. It allows them to feel close to their loved one and remember happier times. It also provides an opportunity to say good-bye. This is a very important step towards acceptance in the grieving process.


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