Grief support for children & teens

HopeWest Kids

When impacted by serious illness or the death of a loved one, children often need help finding ways to cope. HopeWest Kids is our program for grieving children and teens. Experienced counselors also help parents learn healthy and meaningful ways to help their children when a loved one is seriously ill or dying.

HopeWest Kids COVID-19 Information & Resources →

How We Help Kids & Teens

Groups, Programs & Camps

The HopeWest Kids Team

About Child & Teen Grief

Resources for Kids & Parents

How You Can Help HopeWest Kids

Grief support
for children & teens

HopeWest Kids

When impacted by serious illness or the death of a loved one, children often need help finding ways to cope. HopeWest Kids is our program for grieving children and teens. Experienced counselors also help parents learn healthy and meaningful ways to help their children when a loved one is seriously ill or dying.

HopeWest Kids COVID-19 Information & Resources 

How We Help Kids & Teens 

Groups, Programs & Camps 

The HopeWest Kids Team 

About Child & Teen Grief

Resources for Kids & Parents 

How You Can Help HopeWest Kids 

About HopeWest Kids

About
HopeWest Kids

When a family is facing a serious illness or a death, HopeWest Kids is designed to support children and teens as they explore, understand, and express their personal grief experience. Our skilled and compassionate staff and volunteers create a safe and welcoming environment while utilizing techniques that best fit each child and teen.

Our work involves facilitating well-being and resilience in the whole child. Our grief support encompasses education and compassionate interventions for the child and family in collaboration with community partners.

Funded exclusively through donations, HopeWest Kids focuses on children and families in our communities regardless of whether or not they have had a family member served by HopeWest.

HopeWest Kids is the only program of its kind in Western Colorado and served more than 750 kids last year. Specially trained counselors offer grief education and counseling in Delta, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and Rio Blanco counties.

These videos show the impact of grief on kids and how HopeWest can help.

Carmen quickly learned the healing power of horses when she began attending HopeWest’s equine grief support program. Carmen was 8 when her mother died suddenly in a tragic accident. Healing with Horses was a natural fit for Carmen, who loves all animals. It was a safe place to grieve.

“It really helps to talk to someone who you are comfortable with – friends, family, or even animals. The horses are big, graceful, sweet, and smart. It’s like they can give you a big hug.”

Grief Support Groups & Programs

For more information about availability, please call (970) 245-5377.

Individual Counseling

Delta, Grand Junction, Meeker, Montrose, Plateau Valley

Learn More

Counseling sessions are available to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or are connected to someone with a serious illness. Services are offered at a nominal fee on a sliding scale basis or are covered by insurance.

For information please call (970) 245-5377.

School-Based Support Groups

Delta, Grand Junction, Meeker, Montrose, Plateau Valley

Learn More

HopeWest Kids sponsors grief support groups in 43 schools across Mesa, Montrose, and Delta Counties. If you would like to meet with other kids in a group setting, ask your school counselor if there is a group at your school or call HopeWest. There is no cost for school-based grief support groups.

For information please call (970) 245-5377.

Equine Therapy Grief Group

Grand Junction, Meeker, Montrose

Learn More

These groups are designed to help children and teens understand and cope with their loss through self-expression and interaction with horses.

For information please call (970) 245-5377.

Boomerang Group

Delta, Montrose 

Learn More

Boomerang offers continued support for kids of all ages who have had a loss and who have previously attended a grief group or individual counseling. It is also an opportunity for kids who have not attended any groups to “ease into” talking about their loss with other kids. Attending this group is free of charge.

The group meets once a month in our Delta and Montrose office locations.

For information please call (970) 245-5377.

Forget-Me-Not Family Group

Grand Junction

Learn More

Forget-Me-Not is a grief support group that children and their family members attend together. The group, open to school-age children, teens and adults, provides a safe and caring place to explore grief and its impact on the family.

Forget-Me-Not offers education and support to adults who are parenting grieving kids. Children and teens work in age-specific groups, allowing participants to connect with peers facing similar experiences. Kids process grief through the use of games, art and craft projects and music.

The groups facilitate conversation and sharing between family members through work on projects such as a family quilt, birdhouse, or memory candle. Studies show that the single biggest factor in predicting positive outcome for grieving children is the functioning of their parent after a loss. Grieving parents are guided by an experienced counselor and volunteer in communication and parenting skills that are unique in a family after a loss.

Forget-Me-Not Family Group is free of charge.

A special thank you to Kiwanis of Grand Junction for supporting this program.

This group is offered in the spring and fall each year

For information please call (970) 245-5377.

Connecting Hearts Group

Montrose

Learn More

This is a monthly grief support group for children and teens who have a loved one coping with a serious illness.

Registration is required each month as size is limited due to safety protocols and required physical distancing.

Group Meets the Third Wednesday of the Month 
November 18
& December 16
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Montrose HopeWest Office, 725 South 4th Street

For information or to pre-register please call (970) 245-5377.

Elementary Open Studio

Grand Junction 

Learn More

Elementary Open Studio is a monthly group for elementary-age children who have been in individual counseling, school group or a family group. It meets on Friday afternoons, which are early-release days for elementary schools. This group is facilitated by a HopeWest Kids staff member and 1-2 adult volunteers. The format for this group has options for activities like gardening or creative work in a semi-structured studio setting.

Open studio meets in Grand Junction. There is no charge to attend. 

For information please call (970) 245-5377.

HopeWest Kids Grief Camps

Grades K-2

Grades 3-8

Teens

Teens

The HopeWest Kids Team

Our therapists are masters-level prepared and have long-term experience in the field of illness and grief support. They have special training and expertise in grief and loss, holding certifications in art therapy, equine therapy, and EMDR⁠—a method designed to alleviate distress associated with trauma. 

Joni B., MA, LPC, ATR-BC

Director of Youth Programs

Joni holds a BA in Social Work and received her MA in Art Therapy and Counseling in 2008. She is the Director of Youth Programs and is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist.

Over the past 20+ years at HopeWest, her work has included counseling and supporting terminally ill patients and their families. Her interest and passion for using art therapy with children, adolescents, and adults has evolved out of her experiences in hospice and palliative care, in psychosocial rehabilitation for chronically mentally ill adults, private practice for seven years, and psychiatric & behavioral hospital care in both acute and residential treatment.

Read More About Joni

Joni’s associations include the American Art Therapy association, the Art Therapy Association of Colorado, and the National Association of Social Workers. Her presentations at the local, regional and national levels have pertained to her work with incarcerated grieving teens, bereaved children and teens, anticipatory grief, and art therapy. She is an advisory board member for Sozo Youth Sanctuary Foundation.

Joni established ArtLight Therapy & Studios to incorporate her creative therapy practice with her own artistic endeavors. Over the years Joni has enjoyed freelance and fine art projects, which have included children’s book illustrations, real estate illustrations, and commissioned drawings and paintings. She has participated in juried shows at the regional and national level. Her contributions of original art to non-profit groups have included the National Hospice Foundation.

Brittni T., LPC
Mesa County Youth Counselor

About Brittni

Brittni, LPC received her MS in Counseling in 2015 and a BS in Family and Community Services in 2009, both from the University of Wyoming. She has a background in child development, family systems theory, and play therapy and utilizes this to inform her work with grieving children and families. Brittni has specialized training to provide equine-assisted grief groups using the EAGALA model. She has worked for HopeWest since early 2015.

Michelle K., LCSW
Mesa County Youth Counselor

About Michelle

Michelle, LCSW received her Master of Social Work from Baylor University in 2009 and a B.A. in Psychology from Austin College in 2007. She has been a Youth Counselor with HopeWest Kids since August 2017 providing individual and group grief support to children and teens in our community. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Michelle has specialized training in EMDR and Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. She utilizes those modalities along with cognitive-behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy, and a strengths-oriented approach in her work with grieving children and families.

Stacy S., LCSW
Mesa County Social Worker

About Stacy

Stacy, LCSW has a Masters in Social Work and has worked in patient care. She continues to be involved with HopeWest Kids in school groups, camps and family groups using her expertise in animal-assisted therapies.

Adrianne W., MA
Mesa County Youth Counselor

About Adrianne

Adrianne has a Masters in Counseling. She has been on the HopeWest Kids team for many years leading school grief groups, camp groups, and family groups. She is instrumental in providing adult bereavement support as well as youth bereavement support.

Beckey D.
Mesa County
Administrative Assistant

About Beckey

Beckey is our Administrative Assistant for HopeWest Kids. She joined our team in July 2017. She is currently working on her degree in Elementary Education.

Carrie B., BSW
Delta County Bereavement
& Youth Coordinator

About Carrie

Carrie earned her bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Northern Iowa in 2005 and has worked in the field of bereavement and end-of-life care since 2006. Her professional career has including working in hospice, as well as overseeing a bereavement program at a large funeral home in Des Moines, Iowa.

She has had the opportunity to present on various grief topics at the local and national level and is a member of the Association of Death Education and Counseling and National Alliance of Grieving Children. Carrie moved to Colorado and started working as the Youth Service Coordinator with HopeWest Kids in Delta in November 2017. Currently, Carrie is working on her Master’s in Thanatology through Marian University and in her spare time enjoys checking out new areas on the Western Slope.

Teri K., MA
Montrose & Ouray County
Youth Services Coordinator

About Teri

Teri began as the Youth Services Coordinator for the Montrose Office in August 2017.  She holds a Master of Arts degree in education and counseling from Chadron State College and a Bachelor of Sciences degree in communications from the University of Wyoming.  In 2016, Teri retired from her career in education, with over 30 years of experience. She now works in her dream job which has been to work for a hospice organization.  She uses strengths oriented, solution-focused, mindfulness, play, and expressive arts approaches to come alongside grieving children and teens to support them in their mourning process. Teri finds fulfillment in offering individual counseling, telehealth counseling, school grief groups, and family groups and support. 

Shirley H., LCSW
Montrose County
Youth Counselor

About Shirley

Shirley has worked for HopeWest as a grief counselor in the kids program since 2011. Following her position as Youth Services Coordinator in Montrose, she is now a variable employee working part-time hours. Her passion in this work has been in helping kids and families through therapeutic partnering with horses. She works with amazing volunteers in the summer equine grief therapy program at HopeWest. Shirley earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Work and then a Master’s degree in Social Work through the California State University system in 1977. She is certified to provide equine therapy services using the EAGALA model. She has worked with children and families in a variety of settings for many years: as a school social worker, in private practice, in mental health clinics, and residential and mental health day treatment centers for children and adolescents. “The privilege of providing support to children and families as they journey through the challenges of coping with loss and grief has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career.”

Hallie B.
Rio Blanco County
Youth Counselor

About Hallie

After receiving her sociology degree at University of Southern Colorado (now CSU-Pueblo), Hallie worked to become certified as a CAC I and a CAC II therapist while doing crisis work and substance abuse counseling for Mind Springs Health. She became an Unlicensed Psychotherapist in 2015 enabling her to work for HopeWest and completed a Masters in School Counseling in 2020.

The HopeWest Kids Team

Our therapists are masters-level prepared and have long-term experience in the field of illness and grief support. They have special training and expertise in grief and loss, holding certifications in art therapy, equine therapy, and EMDR⁠—a method designed to alleviate distress associated with trauma. 

Joni B., MA, LPC, ATR-BC

Director of Youth Programs

Joni holds a BA in Social Work and received her MA in Art Therapy and Counseling in 2008. She is the Director of Youth Programs and is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist.

Over the past 20+ years at HopeWest, her work has included counseling and supporting terminally ill patients and their families. Her interest and passion for using art therapy with children, adolescents, and adults has evolved out of her experiences in hospice and palliative care, in psychosocial rehabilitation for chronically mentally ill adults, private practice for seven years, and psychiatric & behavioral hospital care in both acute and residential treatment.

Read More About Joni

Joni’s associations include the American Art Therapy association, the Art Therapy Association of Colorado, and the National Association of Social Workers. Her presentations at the local, regional and national levels have pertained to her work with incarcerated grieving teens, bereaved children and teens, anticipatory grief, and art therapy. She is an advisory board member for Sozo Youth Sanctuary Foundation.

Joni established ArtLight Therapy & Studios to incorporate her creative therapy practice with her own artistic endeavors. Over the years Joni has enjoyed freelance and fine art projects, which have included children’s book illustrations, real estate illustrations, and commissioned drawings and paintings. She has participated in juried shows at the regional and national level. Her contributions of original art to non-profit groups have included the National Hospice Foundation.

Brittni T., LPC
Mesa County Youth Counselor

About Brittni

Brittni, LPC received her MS in Counseling in 2015 and a BS in Family and Community Services in 2009, both from the University of Wyoming. She has a background in child development, family systems theory, and play therapy and utilizes this to inform her work with grieving children and families. Brittni has specialized training to provide equine-assisted grief groups using the EAGALA model. She has worked for HopeWest since early 2015.

Michelle K., LCSW
Mesa County Youth Counselor

About Michelle

Michelle, LCSW received her Master of Social Work from Baylor University in 2009 and a B.A. in Psychology from Austin College in 2007. She has been a Youth Counselor with HopeWest Kids since August 2017 providing individual and group grief support to children and teens in our community. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Michelle has specialized training in EMDR and Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. She utilizes those modalities along with cognitive-behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy, and a strengths-oriented approach in her work with grieving children and families.

Stacy S., LCSW
Mesa County Social Worker

About Stacy

Stacy, LCSW has a Masters in Social Work and has worked in patient care. She continues to be involved with HopeWest Kids in school groups, camps and family groups using her expertise in animal-assisted therapies.

Adrianne W., MA
Mesa County Youth Counselor

About Adrianne

Adrianne has a Masters in Counseling. She has been on the HopeWest Kids team for many years leading school grief groups, camp groups, and family groups. She is instrumental in providing adult bereavement support as well as youth bereavement support.

Beckey D.
Mesa County Administrative Assistant

About Beckey

Beckey is our Administrative Assistant for HopeWest Kids. She joined our team in July 2017. She is currently working on her degree in Elementary Education.

Carrie B., BSW
Delta County Bereavement & Youth Coordinator

About Carrie

Carrie earned her bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Northern Iowa in 2005 and has worked in the field of bereavement and end-of-life care since 2006. Her professional career has including working in hospice, as well as overseeing a bereavement program at a large funeral home in Des Moines, Iowa.

She has had the opportunity to present on various grief topics at the local and national level and is a member of the Association of Death Education and Counseling and National Alliance of Grieving Children. Carrie moved to Colorado and started working as the Youth Service Coordinator with HopeWest Kids in Delta in November 2017. Currently, Carrie is working on her Master’s in Thanatology through Marian University and in her spare time enjoys checking out new areas on the Western Slope.

Teri K., MA
Montrose & Ouray County Youth Services Coordinator

About Teri

Teri began as the Youth Services Coordinator for the Montrose Office in August 2017.  She holds a Master of Arts degree in education and counseling from Chadron State College and a Bachelor of Sciences degree in communications from the University of Wyoming.  In 2016, Teri retired from her career in education, with over 30 years of experience. She now works in her dream job which has been to work for a hospice organization.  She uses strengths oriented, solution-focused, mindfulness, play, and expressive arts approaches to come alongside grieving children and teens to support them in their mourning process. Teri finds fulfillment in offering individual counseling, telehealth counseling, school grief groups, and family groups and support.

Shirley H., LCSW
Montrose County Youth Counselor

About Shirley

Shirley has worked for HopeWest as a grief counselor in the kids program since 2011. Following her position as Youth Services Coordinator in Montrose, she is now a variable employee working part-time hours. Her passion in this work has been in helping kids and families through therapeutic partnering with horses. She works with amazing volunteers in the summer equine grief therapy program at HopeWest. Shirley earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Work and then a Master’s degree in Social Work through the California State University system in 1977. She is certified to provide equine therapy services using the EAGALA model. She has worked with children and families in a variety of settings for many years: as a school social worker, in private practice, in mental health clinics, and residential and mental health day treatment centers for children and adolescents. “The privilege of providing support to children and families as they journey through the challenges of coping with loss and grief has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career.”

Hallie B.
Rio Blanco County Youth Counselor

About Hallie

After receiving her sociology degree at University of Southern Colorado (now CSU-Pueblo), Hallie worked to become certified as a CAC I and a CAC II therapist while doing crisis work and substance abuse counseling for Mind Springs Health. She became an Unlicensed Psychotherapist in 2015 enabling her to work for HopeWest and completed a Masters in School Counseling in 2020.

About Child & Teen Grief

Grief in Children

Children grieve differently than adults, which can make grief hard to identify. Since kids do not sustain emotional pain for long periods of time, they grieve in spurts. Episodes of tears and crying can be quickly followed by laughter and play.

Grief may present itself as changes in behavior such as tantrums or with physical complaints like stomachaches and headaches. Children have feelings they may not share–for example, fear that someone else they love may die or guilt that something they said or did caused their loved one to die. As they mature they may grieve the loss again and need support long after adults think they are healed.Hospice Care

How you can help

• Answer questions clearly and accurately
• Maintain structure and routine
• Encourage a variety of outlets for grief
• Model honest expressions of grief
• Partner with school personnel to promote
academic success
• Keep the memory of the loved one alive

Grief in Teens

Teens respond to grief in their own unique way and working through identity issues is one of their main tasks.  When they are impacted by an illness or loss, parents may observe their teen withdraw, struggle socially, or try to assume adult roles. Some teens participate in risk-taking behaviors as an expression of their grief. Bereaved teens often also struggle academically: teachers report that students who have lost a parent or guardian typically exhibit difficulty concentrating in class (87%), less class participation (82%), and absenteeism (72%) (NYL Foundation and American Federation of Teachers, 2012).

How you can help

• Create rituals to honor the deceased
• Allow for changes in mood and maturity level
• Answer questions and provide factual information
• Allow for flexibility in completion of schoolwork
• Support relationships with understanding adults
• Share your grief
• Find a peer support group

Resources for Kids, Teens, and Parents

Grief Support Resources For Kids 12 & Under

A Guide for Kids 12 and Under

When a loved one dies, children continue to need ongoing support. Rainbow Connections is a 12-issue newsletter for kids 12 and under. It combines information about loss and grief with proven tips and coping strategies. Each issue includes a suggested activity and recommended reading.

Grief Support Resources For Teens

A Guide for Teens

When a loved one dies, teens continue to need ongoing support. Connections for Teens is a 13-issue newsletter that combines general information about loss and grief with proven tips and coping strategies.

A Guide Through the Grieving Process for Teens

When a loved one dies, teens continue to need long-term care and support. Connections for Teens is a 13-issue newsletter that combines general information about loss and grief with proven tips and coping strategies.

Resources For Parents

Talking to Children and Teens

 When a Loved One Has a Serious Illness

It is never easy to talk to children and teens about a serious illness in the family, particularly if that illness is likely to end in the death of a loved one. However, young people are perceptive and sense when they feel they are being excluded from family events.

Depending on their age, they make take responsibility for the negative events if not given assurances about the cause of the stress in the home. Hopefully, they have been involved during the treatment phase of the disease. Some adults postpone telling their children until changes in physical appearance are noticeable. However, there may be other changes in the household that concern them such as the inability of the patient to work or frequent trips to the doctor or hospital. They may then attempt to gather information by eavesdropping on adult conversations and piecing together a scenario, leaving them alone with their worries.

 

 At the Time of Diagnosis

  • Tell them the loved one is ill and ask them how much information they want about the illness. Let them know you are willing to answer their questions.
  • Provide accurate information about the disease in language appropriate to their age. Name the disease and explain how it affects the body.
  • Tell them whether or not the disease is infectious. Children may fear they can “catch” the illness and therefore, distance themselves from their loved one.
  • Explain the cause of the disease. “Magical thinking” in young children may lead them to believe that something they said or did caused the disease. Reassure them the illness is never the fault of a child. If the disease was caused by a certain lifestyle, be aware they will fear for others with a similar lifestyle. For example, if the disease can be related to smoking, they may begin to hide cigarettes or beg other loved ones to stop smoking.
  • Give them Information about treatment and the expected side effects. They may wish to accompany the loved one to treatments. They can be told that everything possible is being done to fight the disease.
  • When a cure is no longer possible, tell them this is a serious illness that causes death. This allows them time to prepare.

If the Disease Becomes Life-Threatening

  • Give them the opportunity to spend time with the patient and participate with them in meaningful activities. Otherwise, they may be left with the feeling that they did not get to say goodbye. If they are not told the prognosis and participate in their regular routine, after the death they may feel guilty about not making time for the loved one. Ask them how much time they want to spend with the ill person. Confirm that it is their job to be a youngster. It is ok to want to be with friends, attend school and enjoy their usual routine.
  • Help children and teens discover ways to interact with the patient. Be creative in involving them in the care of the patient. They can bring needed items to the room, draw pictures to decorate the room, read to the patient. Ask them what they would like to do. You may be surprised at the creative ideas they come up with. If there has been conflict, help the child resolve these issues.
  • Let them know you are available to answer their questions. Tell them you may cry when talking about the person but assure them you are only letting out your feelings, you are ok, and you will continue to care for them. Give them permission to cry and show their feelings. It may help them to have a notebook where they can write their questions. Adults can then read their questions and either write the answers or talk to them.
  • Include others in the nurturing of your child. You may not be able to provide your children with all the physical and emotional support that they are used to during this time. Other loving adults can support your child and provide concrete service by doing such things as driving them to social functions.
  • Inform school personnel about the illness. Your child may struggle at school while they are focused on their concern about what is happening at home that day.

 

When Death Occurs

  • Include the child in making a plan for the day of the death. If they are at school, do they want someone to come to school to get them? If so, is there a particular person they would like to come for them. Or do they want to learn of the death only after they have arrived home at the end of the school day.
  • Do they want to spend time with the body before it is removed by the mortuary? Do they want to do this alone or do they want someone else with them. If yes, prepare them for what the body will look like.
  • Consult them on what they want their teachers and classmates to know. Some children will say that they do not want others to know. Gently explain to them that it is likely that classmates will find out in some other way, such as from a parent reading the obituary in the newspaper. If they miss school for the funeral, classmates may ask why they were not in school. This is an opportunity for them to learn about the support that can be provided by others.
  • Let them choose how they would like the classmates to learn of the death. Elementary teachers may inform the whole class in their absence. In this case, classmates can create cards of sympathy and support, teaching children how to support others through a sad time. In some cases children want to be the ones to share the information about the death with the class. For middle and high school age youth the news usually is shared in a less formal manner, such as social media and word of mouth.
  • Include them in the funeral planning and allow them to participate if they chose.

 Children & Funerals

The death of a family member or close friend can be overwhelming for a child. Parents and teachers often have questions about how to provide emotional support for a child after a death and how to handle their participation in a funeral or memorial service.

Should my child attend a funeral?

Children of any age can attend a funeral with preparation about what to expect. Infants and very young children benefit from having a familiar person prepared to remove them from the funeral if they become restless. This could be a family friend or a regular care provider; someone who would not feel the need to stay in the service for their own benefit.

How do I explain a funeral to my child?

Many children aren’t aware of the purpose of a funeral or memorial service or what to expect. Providing clear, concise information will help them make a decision about whether they want to attend. This should include the specifics about where and when the service will be, who will attend, the order of service, potential reaction of others, and any special plans. There should also be discussion of whether or not there are plans for a burial or cremation and the meaning of both. Give them honest, concrete answers. They can sense when you are sidestepping an issue.

How do I prepare my child for the service?

Explain the service in age appropriate terms and be aware of not projecting your own bias into the conversations. Comments such as “You should remember them like they were” may give the impression that a funeral is frightening or even dangerous. If the casket is to be open, it is wise to tell them that the body will not look or feel like it did when the person was alive.

How much should I tell my child about burial and cremation?

Children are naturally curious about what happens to the body of a person who dies. Begin the conversation by telling them that the person who died no longer needs their body, and then briefly describe burial or cremation. For example:

“When someone dies their body is no longer needed by them and we have to decide what to do with it. We put the body in a special box called a casket and bury it or take it to a place where it goes into a very hot oven and is burned. Because there is no longer life in the body, we say goodbye to their body at the funeral service.”

Will the funeral be too emotional for my child?

Funerals help all family members say goodbye to the person who died so they can begin to accept the loss and start to heal. Attending a funeral helps a child understand that funerals are about celebrating someone’s life as well as mourning their death. They will have the opportunity to share memories, both sad ones and comforting ones, and observe family and friends supporting one another. Children report feeling left out and resentful when they are not given a choice about attending a funeral or memorial service. They may assume that adults feel they are not mature enough to attend with the rest of the family, impacting their view of themselves.

What can I expect?

There are as many reactions to a funeral as there are children. Some may be shy, pulling away from adults who claim to know them but are essentially strangers. Adults may pat them on the head and tell them how much they have grown and they do not know what to say or do. They may play with other children in attendance that they have not seen for some time. They value having teachers at the service but may not speak to them. As long as the child’s behavior does not disrupt the proceedings, and is their honest reaction, it is okay.

What if my child doesn’t want to go to the funeral?

Children should not be forced to attend the funeral if they understand the concept and choose not to go. If you feel they are uncomfortable going, offer an alternative that feels right for both of you. If they choose to go to school, let the teacher know that this is a special day for them and they may need additional support. Plan something for you and your child to do together to mark the occasion such as visiting the cemetery or crematorium and having your own private memorial time.

Should my child take part in the funeral or memorial service?

Memorialization is an important part of the healing process and can begin at the funeral. A child can participate in the service depending on their interest, age and ability. Ask children for their ideas. They will surprise you and create something that is truly meaningful for them. Some children may want to play music, read something they have written, or place a memento in the casket. Looking through photos with family and choosing those for display at the funeral involves them in the family stories.

Is there anything I should do after the funeral or memorial service?

After the service talk with your kids to see if they have questions or misconceptions about the service or the reactions of the other attendees. They may interpret casual conversations or laughter they saw during or after the service as a sign of disrespect for their loved one. Note that adults in attendance may have made inappropriate comments to them. For example: telling a young boy whose father has died, that he is the man of the house now or that it is his job to take care of his mother. Explain that even adults do not know what to say to comfort someone who is grieving but that they were there because they care about your family.

Talking to Children and Teens

 When a Loved One Has a Serious Illness

It is never easy to talk to children and teens about a serious illness in the family, particularly if that illness is likely to end in the death of a loved one. However, young people are perceptive and sense when they feel they are being excluded from family events.

Depending on their age, they make take responsibility for the negative events if not given assurances about the cause of the stress in the home. Hopefully, they have been involved during the treatment phase of the disease. Some adults postpone telling their children until changes in physical appearance are noticeable. However, there may be other changes in the household that concern them such as the inability of the patient to work or frequent trips to the doctor or hospital. They may then attempt to gather information by eavesdropping on adult conversations and piecing together a scenario, leaving them alone with their worries.

 

 At the Time of Diagnosis

  • Tell them the loved one is ill and ask them how much information they want about the illness. Let them know you are willing to answer their questions.
  • Provide accurate information about the disease in language appropriate to their age. Name the disease and explain how it affects the body.
  • Tell them whether or not the disease is infectious. Children may fear they can “catch” the illness and therefore, distance themselves from their loved one.
  • Explain the cause of the disease. “Magical thinking” in young children may lead them to believe that something they said or did caused the disease. Reassure them the illness is never the fault of a child. If the disease was caused by a certain lifestyle, be aware they will fear for others with a similar lifestyle. For example, if the disease can be related to smoking, they may begin to hide cigarettes or beg other loved ones to stop smoking.
  • Give them Information about treatment and the expected side effects. They may wish to accompany the loved one to treatments. They can be told that everything possible is being done to fight the disease.
  • When a cure is no longer possible, tell them this is a serious illness that causes death. This allows them time to prepare.

If the Disease Becomes Life-Threatening

  • Give them the opportunity to spend time with the patient and participate with them in meaningful activities. Otherwise, they may be left with the feeling that they did not get to say goodbye. If they are not told the prognosis and participate in their regular routine, after the death they may feel guilty about not making time for the loved one. Ask them how much time they want to spend with the ill person. Confirm that it is their job to be a youngster. It is ok to want to be with friends, attend school and enjoy their usual routine.
  • Help children and teens discover ways to interact with the patient. Be creative in involving them in the care of the patient. They can bring needed items to the room, draw pictures to decorate the room, read to the patient. Ask them what they would like to do. You may be surprised at the creative ideas they come up with. If there has been conflict, help the child resolve these issues.
  • Let them know you are available to answer their questions. Tell them you may cry when talking about the person but assure them you are only letting out your feelings, you are ok, and you will continue to care for them. Give them permission to cry and show their feelings. It may help them to have a notebook where they can write their questions. Adults can then read their questions and either write the answers or talk to them.
  • Include others in the nurturing of your child. You may not be able to provide your children with all the physical and emotional support that they are used to during this time. Other loving adults can support your child and provide concrete service by doing such things as driving them to social functions.
  • Inform school personnel about the illness. Your child may struggle at school while they are focused on their concern about what is happening at home that day.

 

When Death Occurs

  • Include the child in making a plan for the day of the death. If they are at school, do they want someone to come to school to get them? If so, is there a particular person they would like to come for them. Or do they want to learn of the death only after they have arrived home at the end of the school day.
  • Do they want to spend time with the body before it is removed by the mortuary? Do they want to do this alone or do they want someone else with them. If yes, prepare them for what the body will look like.
  • Consult them on what they want their teachers and classmates to know. Some children will say that they do not want others to know. Gently explain to them that it is likely that classmates will find out in some other way, such as from a parent reading the obituary in the newspaper. If they miss school for the funeral, classmates may ask why they were not in school. This is an opportunity for them to learn about the support that can be provided by others.
  • Let them choose how they would like the classmates to learn of the death. Elementary teachers may inform the whole class in their absence. In this case, classmates can create cards of sympathy and support, teaching children how to support others through a sad time. In some cases children want to be the ones to share the information about the death with the class. For middle and high school age youth the news usually is shared in a less formal manner, such as social media and word of mouth.
  • Include them in the funeral planning and allow them to participate if they chose.

 Children & Funerals

The death of a family member or close friend can be overwhelming for a child. Parents and teachers often have questions about how to provide emotional support for a child after a death and how to handle their participation in a funeral or memorial service.

Should my child attend a funeral?

Children of any age can attend a funeral with preparation about what to expect. Infants and very young children benefit from having a familiar person prepared to remove them from the funeral if they become restless. This could be a family friend or a regular care provider; someone who would not feel the need to stay in the service for their own benefit.

How do I explain a funeral to my child?

Many children aren’t aware of the purpose of a funeral or memorial service or what to expect. Providing clear, concise information will help them make a decision about whether they want to attend. This should include the specifics about where and when the service will be, who will attend, the order of service, potential reaction of others, and any special plans. There should also be discussion of whether or not there are plans for a burial or cremation and the meaning of both. Give them honest, concrete answers. They can sense when you are sidestepping an issue.

How do I prepare my child for the service?

Explain the service in age appropriate terms and be aware of not projecting your own bias into the conversations. Comments such as “You should remember them like they were” may give the impression that a funeral is frightening or even dangerous. If the casket is to be open, it is wise to tell them that the body will not look or feel like it did when the person was alive.

How much should I tell my child about burial and cremation?

Children are naturally curious about what happens to the body of a person who dies. Begin the conversation by telling them that the person who died no longer needs their body, and then briefly describe burial or cremation. For example:

“When someone dies their body is no longer needed by them and we have to decide what to do with it. We put the body in a special box called a casket and bury it or take it to a place where it goes into a very hot oven and is burned. Because there is no longer life in the body, we say goodbye to their body at the funeral service.”

Will the funeral be too emotional for my child?

Funerals help all family members say goodbye to the person who died so they can begin to accept the loss and start to heal. Attending a funeral helps a child understand that funerals are about celebrating someone’s life as well as mourning their death. They will have the opportunity to share memories, both sad ones and comforting ones, and observe family and friends supporting one another. Children report feeling left out and resentful when they are not given a choice about attending a funeral or memorial service. They may assume that adults feel they are not mature enough to attend with the rest of the family, impacting their view of themselves.

What can I expect?

There are as many reactions to a funeral as there are children. Some may be shy, pulling away from adults who claim to know them but are essentially strangers. Adults may pat them on the head and tell them how much they have grown and they do not know what to say or do. They may play with other children in attendance that they have not seen for some time. They value having teachers at the service but may not speak to them. As long as the child’s behavior does not disrupt the proceedings, and is their honest reaction, it is okay.

What if my child doesn’t want to go to the funeral?

Children should not be forced to attend the funeral if they understand the concept and choose not to go. If you feel they are uncomfortable going, offer an alternative that feels right for both of you. If they choose to go to school, let the teacher know that this is a special day for them and they may need additional support. Plan something for you and your child to do together to mark the occasion such as visiting the cemetery or crematorium and having your own private memorial time.

Should my child take part in the funeral or memorial service?

Memorialization is an important part of the healing process and can begin at the funeral. A child can participate in the service depending on their interest, age and ability. Ask children for their ideas. They will surprise you and create something that is truly meaningful for them. Some children may want to play music, read something they have written, or place a memento in the casket. Looking through photos with family and choosing those for display at the funeral involves them in the family stories.

Is there anything I should do after the funeral or memorial service?

After the service talk with your kids to see if they have questions or misconceptions about the service or the reactions of the other attendees. They may interpret casual conversations or laughter they saw during or after the service as a sign of disrespect for their loved one. Note that adults in attendance may have made inappropriate comments to them. For example: telling a young boy whose father has died, that he is the man of the house now or that it is his job to take care of his mother. Explain that even adults do not know what to say to comfort someone who is grieving but that they were there because they care about your family.

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HopeWest Kids Volunteers help in a variety of ways. Some are periodic assignments and some more routine. They involve working with kids of different ages and circumstances.

Opportunities include:

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Characteristics of HopeWest Kids Volunteers:

  • Love children and have lots of energy
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  • Ability to be flexible and go with the flow