How to Help Children Grieve

Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Children often see death in movies and cartoons, but in real life, death can be confusing. Grieving is an intense emotion for anyone, and can be overwhelming for children, who haven't developed the coping skills for their emotions.

The main thing to remember is that you can't protect children from grief, but you can make them feel safe. Help them feel secure and encourage them to express their feelings. This security will help them build coping skills they can use in the future.

Kids grieve Differently than Adults
A childís mood can change quickly during the grieving process. He may cry one moment, then play the next. That doesnít mean that the grieving process is finished, it may simply mean heís using the playtime to keep from feeling overwhelmed. Itís also normal to see feelings of guilt, anxiety, or anger at the person whoís passed away. Very young children may start wetting the bed again, or slip back into baby talk.

Encourage Children to Express Their Feelings
Itís good for kids to express whatever emotions they are feeling, it will allow them to build coping skills and also release the emotions inside.

One widely recommended method of helping children cope with death is to find a childrenís book about death, and read it together. Itís a gentle way to start the conversation with your child.

Another method of dealing with grieving for children is to do an activity like drawing pictures, build a scrapbook, or look at photo albums. Since children are often unable to describe their feelings in words, this gives them another outlet to express their feelings.

Keep Conversations Developmentally Appropriate
Younger children may not understand that death is forever, and itís hard to know whether a child can grasp that concept that a loved one wonít come back, no matter what they do.

When discussing this topic with your children, donít volunteer too much information. This can be overwhelming for them. Instead, try to answer their questions. Older children may understand that death is permanent, but still have questions. Itís ok to not have all the answers, just answer what questions you can and be available to them, which is most important.

Be Literal
When you discuss death with your children, donít use vague phrases like they ďwent to sleepĒ. This can cause fear of sleeping or bedtime, and robs them of the opportunity to build coping skills that they need in the future.

Attending the Funeral
Deciding whether or not to attend the funeral is a decision that depends totally on you and your child. Many young children are not ready for the intense experience of a funeral. While funerals can help provide closure, some children may not really understand whatís happening.

If you decide to have your child attend the funeral, have a conversation with her about what she will see. Let your child know that funerals are very sad experiences, and some people will be crying, and what she will see when viewing the casket, etc. Never force a child to attend a funeral.

Helping children to handle their grief may also help you deal with your own feelings. The most important thing is to be there for your children in whatever way they need, and to help them express their emotions in a healthy and safe environment.

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