Like adults, children can experience grief as the result of a loss. Loss such as the death of a pet, family member or friend can trigger grief in children. Divorce, relocation and the loss of a friendship can likewise cause a child to grieve. However, children may manifest and respond to grief differently than adults. Accordingly, parents and other adults in a grieving child's life must take a slightly different approach when attempting to help the child cope with grief.
Talk simply and honestly with your child about the loss. Avoid using expressions such as "passed on" or "went to sleep," as these might confuse him. Offer him the truth but limit the amount of information to that which he can absorb.
Allow your child to attend the funeral or memorial service if she wants to. Talk with her about what to expect, such as a body or ashes, so that she will be prepared.
Give your child an opportunity to arrange a memorial of his own, if he wishes. Ask him if there is anything he wants to do to honour the deceased or absent person or pet.
Permit your child time to grieve. Let her know you are ready to listen when she is ready to talk. Avoid forcing your child to talk about her feelings. Offer her physical contact such as hugs, cuddling and hand-holding, but do not force contact.
Give your child the opportunity to talk about the loss. Encourage him to speak by sharing your own memories about the deceased or absent person or pet. Listen patiently to him as he talks about his feelings and thoughts. Answer any questions or concerns as best as you can, and provide reassurance and validation of your child's feelings.
Discuss your personal beliefs about life and death with your child. Share your religious and spiritual beliefs and offer to pray with your child if you practice prayer. Avoid stifling your own feelings about the loss as your child can interpret this as a sign to repress her own feelings. Avoid attempting to stifle your child's emotions, as well.
Continue your normal, daily routines in the home so that your child will not have to deal with changes in the home environment in addition to the grief. Encourage him to use other mediums to express his grief, such as drawing, painting, creating music, dancing, participating in a sport or simply playing.
Avoid placing a timetable on your child's grief. Realise your child may still have questions and express emotions about the loss years later. Understand that certain dates, memories or events may trigger memories of the loss and grief.
- Mental Health America: Helping Children Cope with Loss Resulting From War or Terrorism
- Help Guide; Supporting a Grieving Person; Melinda Smith, MA and Jeanne Segal, PhD; March 2011
- Children's Grief Education Association; Funeral or Memorial Service Attendance; Mary M. Lyles, MSW, LCSW; 2006
- Children's Grief Education Association; Navigating Children's Grief; Mary M. Lyles, MSW, LCSW; 2004