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Children and Grief: How to Help

Children are quite different from adults in how they process major life events. While they are usually resilient, a death in the family still be devastating for young children. Read on to learn what steps you can take to comfort a grieving child.

Explain what happened

It’s natural for children to ask questions after a close family member has passed away. Like adults, children want you to be honest with them. Explaining things to them in truthfully and simply will help them realize what has happened. For younger children, it’s especially important that you explain death, otherwise the child may think that their parent will be returning.

Give the child time

Just like with grief in adults, grief for children is not linear. It can take time for them to cope with the loss of a loved one. Some children become removed from their friends, activities or schoolwork for weeks, while others choose to stay busy. These are both perfectly normal responses for a child experiencing recent loss.

Don’t forget about your responsibilities

After losing a loved one, you may be overcome with grief. However, if you are a parent to a young child, it’s vital that you keep them in mind during this difficult time. While it may be hard for you to cope, your child is going through the same thing, and maybe even more confused and upset than you are. Take the time to listen to how they are feeling and ask open ended questions so that they feel comfortable to share with you. Keep in mind that they see you as their caretaker, so they will be leaning on you for support during their time of grief.

Allow them to say goodbye. Some children may want to be involved in the planning of a funeral or memorial service so they can feel closure. Other may be scared or nervous to attend a ceremony. Allow the child to say goodbye however is best for them. Each child can be different in this situation. If the child does want to attend a funeral service, explain what will be happening beforehand so that they are not surprised or upset at the event. If they are not comfortable with attending a service, ask them how they would like to say goodbye to the person. This will help them accept what has happened.

Ultimately, children are not very different than adults when it comes to grief. They want you to be honest and open with them, and they want to have autonomy in how they cope with the death. Being there as a support system for the child is the most important thing you can do during this difficult time.

Click here to read more about grief resources.