How to Help Children Through Grief

Written by vivian nelson melle
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How to Help Children Through Grief
Children deal with loss differently than adults. (Lisa Stirling/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The stages of grief following a loss can range from mild to severe. In children, the symptoms can vary greatly from those exhibited by adults. It's first important to identify the problem to better aid in the healing process. Regardless of age, however, the stages of grief remain the same and there are ways to help children.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Crayons
  • Paper
  • Dolls or action figures
  • Books on loss
  • Movies on loss
  • Seeds
  • Soil
  • Flower pot

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  1. 1

    Discuss death with the child to ascertain his knowledge on the subject. In early childhood, the idea of death can be thought of as temporary, like going on a trip. It can be frustrating and confusing if the child believes the lost loved one or pet will be returning. Spiritually, older children may wonder about the concepts of heaven and hell and can become quite fearful of where the loved one has gone. It is important to discuss these fears by opening honest communication with respect to the beliefs of that child and his family. Spiritual community leaders may offer services with this, as can counsellors who work with grief.

  2. 2

    Use drawings to consider how the child is coping with loss. Often, children will symbolically mirror their feelings in pictures. Dark and scary drawings reveal possible feelings of anxiety while pictures of sunny skies and playgrounds can demonstrate feelings of security and happiness. Take time to draw with the child and ask about what her drawings mean to them. Use open-ended questions to allow more communication.

  3. 3

    Grow a plant or flower. Children who are grieving are focusing on one stage of the life cycle. Helping them see the full spectrum may help them embrace the loss and view the death as a part of a grander picture. This helps move the concept of death from the realm of negativity to necessity. Death can be a scary concept unless it is tempered with the complete cycle, including life. Allowing the child to grow and care for an object feeds this understanding.

  4. 4

    Use dolls or action figures to give children a safe way to act out their feelings. Allow children to move the play at their own pace and never push an issue. Children often are transparent when it comes to feelings and fears and this provides a safe way for them to express themselves without having to open up entirely.

  5. 5

    Read books or watch movies with subjects of loss when acceptable. From the "Lion King" to "Where the Red Fern Grows," stories of loss can be found in children's literature and in movies. Choose stories and films that are age appropriate for the child and which are acceptable to the situation.

Tips and warnings

  • Children should have a safe environment to express the stages of grief. These stages will be present as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance but can come and go in any order. Children who seem to accept loss can suddenly become very angry. Some children remain in one stage for an extended period of time only to move through the others quickly and even insignificantly. Still, others may show only slight characteristics of any of the stages.
  • Children exhibiting symptoms of depression like loss of appetite, inability to sleep, excessive crying and confusion should be offered mental-health treatment. In many situations, those around the child may be dealing with loss themselves and not be able or willing to offer the support the grieving child may require. Even children who appear to be coping with their grief well should be observed for changes in behaviour.

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