Most children and teenagers eagerly look forward to summer. It means warm weather, late nights, no homework, lounging by the pool, vacation, and maybe summer camp.
But summer may signal something else for children who have lost a parent, according to Irene McClatchey, the director of Kennesaw State’s Master of Social Work program and an expert on children and grief.
“Bereaved children may not look forward to the summer since it no longer feels carefree,” McClatchey said. “They also may feel isolated from their friends whose lives continue as ‘normal.’ Often, after the loss of a parent, financial circumstances change and, while their friends are on vacations and away at summer camps, bereaved children are left behind.”
“Bereaved children may not look forward to the summer since it no longer feels carefree.”Irene McClatchey, director of Kennesaw State’s Master of Social Work program
If you know a child who has lost a parent, McClatchey offers the following suggestions to help the child cope with the loss and feel included during the summer:
- Take them along with your children to a movie for a carefree afternoon, to the park for some play in the sun, or to a concert or other special event.
- Invite them to join your family on a short camping trip or vacation.
- Listen to them. “If you feel that you do not know what to say, tell them so, but that you are available to listen and you are very sorry for their loss,” McClatchey said. “Bereaved children are often neglected in the grieving process, and your willingness to listen without judgment or giving advice would be welcome.”
Don’t know any children or teens who have lost a parent, but you still want to help?
- Volunteer at an organization that assists bereaved youth. “There are not many in Georgia,” McClatchey said, “but Kate’s Club in Atlanta offers recreational activities for this population and there are healing camps for bereaved children and teens that are always in need of volunteers.”
- Donate to organizations for bereaved youth. A donation of any amount helps, McClatchey said. She also suggested that, instead of gifts for your birthday, you could ask your family and friends to donate a small amount of money or arts and crafts materials to organizations working with bereaved children and adolescents.
“Although we cannot change these children’s situations, we can do things to make their summers a little less painful,” said McClatchey, the founder of a kids’ bereavement camp that is held three times a year and author of the book Bereavement Camps for Children and Adolescents.