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Helping Kids Grieve and Deal With Death

Whether it is that first goldfish, or a more grievous loss of a grandparent, or god-forbid, a parent or sibling, it is a sad fact of life that children and teens have to face death.

When a loved one dies, children feel and show their grief in different ways. How kids cope with the loss depends on many factors — from their age, to how close the relationship was with the person who died. Here are some tips from the experts on what parents can do to help a child who is trying to cope with the loss of a loved one, or even a beloved family pet – as provided by The Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit children’s health organization.

When talking about death, use simple, clear words. To break the news that someone has passed away, approach your child in a caring way. Use words that are simple and direct. For example, “I have some sad news to tell you. Grandma died today.” 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.

Put emotions into words. Encourage kids to say what they’re thinking and feeling in the days, weeks, and months following their loss. Talk about your own feelings. Say things like, “I know you’re feeling very sad. I’m sad, too. We both loved Grandma so much, and she loved us, too.”

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. For example, “Aunt Sara will pick you up from school like Grandma used to.” Or, “I need to stay with Grandpa for a few days. That means you and Dad will be home taking care of each other. But I’ll talk to you every day, and I’ll be back on Sunday.”

Talk about funerals and rituals. Allow children to join in rituals like viewings, funerals, or memorial services. Tell your child ahead of time what will happen. For example, “Lots of people who loved Grandma will be there. We will sing, pray, and talk about Grandma’s life. People might cry and hug.”  You might need to explain burial or cremation. For example, “After the funeral, there is a burial at a cemetery. The person’s body is in a casket (or coffin) that gets buried in the ground with a special ceremony. This can feel like a sad goodbye, and people might cry.” Share your family’s beliefs about what happens to a person’s soul or spirit after death.

Give your child a role. Having a small, active role can help kids master an unfamiliar and emotional situation such as a funeral or memorial service. For example, you might invite your child to read a poem, pick a song to be played, gather some photos to display, or make something. But do not force them. Let kids decide if they want to take part, and how.

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.

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.

Grief is a process that happens over time. Be sure to have ongoing conversations to see how your child is feeling and doing. In the end, always let your child know that 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.

 

Have you ever had to help your child deal with the death of a loved one? How did you handle it? Reply in the comments below.

About Cynthia Lechan-Goodman

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