Support Grieving Children

The loss of a loved one is difficult for adults and children alike.  The grieving process is complex, and, sometimes as parents, we struggle with how our children may grieve during difficult times or with the loss of a loved one.  When a loved one dies, children feel and show their grief in different ways, just like adults do. How kids cope with the loss depends on things like their age, how close they felt to the person who died, and the support they receive. Miss Heather discussed this topic on The Rhode Show. Watch it here!

If you and your family are grieving the loss of a loved one or friend, here are some tips to help your child through the process:

  • Be honest with your child and encourage questions – if they ask questions, listen and think carefully about your replies
  • Create, encourage, and promote an environment of comfort and openness. 
  • Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings – there is no right or wrong way to feel
  • Acknowledge your own feelings about the circumstance – how are you feeling?  Are you grieving?  How can you be sure your own feelings do not affect the well being of your child?

When talking with your child directly, consider the following:

When talking about death, use simple, clear words. When breaking news that someone has died, approach your child in a caring way. Use words that are simple and direct. Pause to give your child a moment to take in your words.

Listen and comfort. Every child reacts differently to learning that a loved one has died. Some kids cry. Some ask questions. Others seem not to react at all. That’s OK. Stay with your child to offer hugs or reassurance. Answer your child’s questions or just be together for a few minutes.

Put emotions into words. Encourage kids to say what they’re thinking and feeling in the days, weeks, and months following the loss. Talk about your own feelings: It helps kids be aware of and feel comfortable with theirs.  Use children’s literature about the loss of a loved one, engage in imaginary play with your child.

Tell your child what to expect. If the death of a loved one means changes in your child’s life, head off any worries or fears by explaining what will happen in regards to their daily routines, schedules, activities, etc.

Talk about funerals and rituals. Allow children to feel and experience some type of closure.  This is a decision that you and your family should make together. 

Help your child remember the person. In the days and weeks ahead, encourage your child to draw pictures or write down favorite stories of their loved one. Don’t avoid mentioning the person who died. Recalling and sharing happy memories helps heal grief and activate positive feelings.

Respond to emotions with comfort and reassurance. Notice if your child seems sad, worried, or upset in other ways. Ask about feelings and listen. Let your child know that it takes time to feel better after a loved one dies. Some kids may temporarily have trouble concentrating or sleeping, or have fears or worries. Support groups and counseling can help kids who need more support.

Help your child feel better. Provide the comfort your child needs, but don’t dwell on sad feelings. After a few minutes of talking and listening, shift to an activity or topic that helps your child feel a little better. Play, make art, cook, or go somewhere together.

Give your child time to heal from the loss. Grief is a process that happens over time. Be sure to have ongoing conversations to see how your child is feeling and doing. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting about the loved one. It means remembering the person with love, and letting loving memories stir good feelings that support us as we go on to enjoy life.

This article was written by Heather Grocott, Director of Training and Education at The Children’s Workshop in Lincoln, RI.