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.
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.
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withdrawn.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.
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.
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
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.