Helping Children Overcome Grief And Loss Of A Loved One
The loss of a loved one can be difficult for anyone to understand. They go through the stages of grief to try to cope with the fact that someone they love is gone forever. For children, this process can be harder to understand because they aren’t as familiar with the idea of forever. When someone close to your family or your child dies, like a grandparent, parent, sibling or friend, there are ways that you can help them overcome grief and loss.
Confrontation is uncomfortable for many, and to say outright that someone is dead or has been killed can feel too forward. That is why many people refer to death as passing away or going to sleep. However, these euphemisms can add to the confusion children feel during the initial loss of a loved one. To say someone passed away gives a child a false sense of hope and allows them to think, “They are not gone and will come back if I behave extra well.” Whereas explaining death as sleep can create a fear of sleep. Instead, use correct terms that will help them develop healthy coping skills.
Children are notorious for asking questions because it is how they learn. In the situation of death, it should be no different. Expect to answer all your child’s questions as thoroughly and real as possible. Again, remember to not use any euphemisms. If your family is religious, this is a good time to explain any beliefs you have of an afterlife. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, explain how you can remember this person by talking about them, looking at pictures, and keeping them in your hearts.
Everyone grieves differently, but for children, you must help them recognize what they are feeling. Some ways to do this include talking to a therapist or asking for peer support (if developmentally appropriate), drawing pictures, and telling stories. The age of your child may also affect how they express grief—they may be more distant, clingy, or quiet. Listen to your child as they express how they feel and respect the way they choose to process.
For some, funerals can be helpful during the grieving process as they help to remember and celebrate the person’s life while also providing finality. However, children should never be forced to attend a funeral as it can be such an intense experience. If your child does want to attend, prepare them for what they’ll see—especially if there is an open casket. If the funeral is for an immediate family member, help your child be involved in the memorial if they’d like by allowing them to participate in things like choosing the flowers.
If there will be changes in a child’s routine, prepare them for it. For example, if the person who died used to pick them up from school, inform them that someone else will pick them up. Give your child time to properly adjust to new changes, as shifts in their routine can often add to their sensitivity and confusion. Your child will begin adjusting to their new routines and their grief in time.
Children grieve differently than adults do. They may not understand what’s going on and it can be overwhelming for you to answer all their questions while also dealing with grief yourself. While you take time to care and support your child through their loss, also take time to care for yourself. Your healing can become an example for your child, so it’s best to grieve in healthy ways to encourage that same behavior from your children. Above all, you should be present for your child to help them understand death and accept grief.
Hannah Anderson is from Logandale, NV and enjoys reading World War II novels, being outdoors and spending time with her husband.