NM center helps adults find the best words to support grieving kids
In observance of National Children’s Grief Awareness Month, the Grief Center of New Mexico is encouraging adults to be thoughtful about what they say to kids who’ve lost someone.
A person who says a common refrain like “I’m sorry for your loss” likely really means it and has the best of intentions. But Jade Richardson Bock, executive director of the Grief Center, said it can land another way.
“‘I’m sorry for your loss’ can feel impersonal and like there’s nothing anybody can do,” she said.
“Saying, ‘I know there are no words that make this better, but I want you to know that I’m here, and I want to support you however I can,’ changes that statement from sympathetic to empathetic,” she said.
It’s not about being perfect, Richardson Bock said, and kids will often give adults “do-overs” if they’re brave enough to bring it up again.
“Any empathetic statement with genuine caring and curiosity behind it is going to help a grieving child feel seen and heard,” she said. “And ‘flipping the script’ just gives us some little better words.”
And if the adult also experienced the loss? Richarson Bock said they don’t have to be stoic to be supportive of the grieving children in their life.
“It’s perfectly OK to let the kids see you cry, to let them know that this is hard, but we can do the hard thing,” she said. “We can cry, we can fall apart, but we come back together after that. We get up, we make dinner, we do homework, we do the things that need doing.”
Though for this reason, educators — who have some distance from the death affecting the child — can play a critical role.
“They’re clear-headed,” said Richardson Bock. “They’re able to provide resources and support. They’re also expert voices in childhood development. They can see when something’s unusual, not quite right — when something is off.”
The Grief Center offers resources online, by phone or in person for those who are interested in getting better at holding these conversations or otherwise helping kids cope with loss. For instance, the center is hosting a workshop for children, teens and adults on grieving during the holidays on Nov. 29.