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Helping Your Children Cope with Loss

Dealing with grief and loss is difficult for everyone. The death of a loved one causes pain and anxiety that can feel impossible to cope with-even for adults. For children, a loved one's passing can be even harder to understand and accept.

When your family has suffered a loss, how can you help your children deal with the situation and come to terms with their grief? Although every family will have its own individual circumstances and challenges, follow these general guidelines to help your kids through the process.

Be Honest

It's only natural to want to shield your children from the world's harsh realities. However, when it comes to the death of a loved one, you can do far more good for your kids by being honest with them.

For example, if your loved one is suffering from an illness and you know he or she doesn't have long to live, you don't have to hide this information from your children. While you should keep your kids' ages and maturity levels in mind when you explain the circumstances of a death, letting your kids know a loss is coming can actually help them prepare.

Encourage Questions

In the wake of a loss, children can easily feel shaken and confused. They are trying to make sense of the changes in their lives and deal with a variety of new emotions. You can help your kids through this by maintaining an open and comforting dialogue. As children attempt to understand the situation, a number of questions will arise. Encourage your kids' questions and answer them as best you can.

Accept All Feelings

Individual children will deal with grief differently. You might have one child who feels angry and aggressive and another who becomes quiet and withdrawn. Accept whatever emotions your children display and let them know there's no right or wrong way to feel.

Stay Patient

As you deal with your own grieving process, you might feel exhausted or annoyed when your kids ask the same questions over and over again. However, children learn through repetition, and sometimes they need to hear a consistent answer multiple times. Stay patient with your kids as they explore this difficult event and keep answering their questions, however many times they ask.

Avoid Confusion

Children tend to think in very literal terms. When you explain a lost them, avoid phrases such as “went away for a while" or "went to sleep." These phrases can confuse children and encourage irrational fears, such as a fear that you will abandon them or a fear of going to sleep. Young children also need help understanding the finality of death-abstract phrases can blur this concept.

Consider Funeral Attendance

Your kids don't have to attend the funeral in order to achieve closure. When it comes to funeral attendance, you should assess your children and their needs individually. Young kids can feel frightened at funerals when many people are sad and upset at the same time. On the other hand, some kids will gain a better understanding of a loss if they are part of the memorial service.

If you decide your kids should not attend the funeral, you can help them memorialize your loved one in other ways. For example, plant a flower or write down some special memories.

Show Your Grief

As you help your children grieve, you don't have to hide your own feelings from them. Although your kids shouldn’t feel responsible for helping or "fixing" you, it's okay for them to watch you deal with your own pain and work through your emotions.

The grieving process is never easy. However, with some general guidelines, you can help your kids work through their loss and gain closure despite a stressful situation.

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