It’s hard to predict how a child will react to death, especially if it’s his or her first time experiencing loss.
According to Care Dimensions, suppressed feelings can often resurface in unhealthy ways throughout the various stages of grieving. That’s why it’s important for not only children, but also adults, to respond to their feelings as they arise. Whether it’s a family member, friend, classmate or pet that has passed, it’s important to have conversations with children of all ages to help them process their grief in a healthy, constructive way.
Below, we offer coping strategies to help a grieving child heal.
1. Allow your child or grandchild to participate in end-of-life celebrations.
Following a death, one of the first events in which a child may feel grief or fully understand their loved one is gone is at a funeral, memorial or end-of-life gathering. Allowing children to participate in the funeral or memorial service is an important part of the grieving process.
Before attending services, let your child know what to expect and where the events will be held. Explain in advance what they will see and what others may be doing. This will give your child or grandchild the information they need to properly prepare.
Wherever possible, consider involving your child or grandchild in the following areas:
- Choosing music
- Greeting guests
- Handing out memorial cards
- Reading scriptures or verses
- Selecting flowers
- Sharing stories
This is a meaningful and memorable way for children to honor the deceased. Plus, services can be helpful in providing closure for children and accepting a death.
2. Encourage your child or grandchild to ask questions.
Following a death or services, it’s likely your child or grandchild will have some questions about the situation.
As the adult, encourage them to ask questions. This helps the grieving child feel secure in expressing their emotions. It also reassures them that he or she is loved, and will be cared for—regardless if the deceased is no longer here.
When it comes to sharing details on the cause of death, use discretion. You’ll want to keep explanations clear and honest, while also remaining age appropriate. Avoid euphemisms, such as “asleep” or “lost,” which may cause confusion for the child.
There are a number of children’s books available both online and offline to help kids deal with feelings of grief. Taking time to read stories together can help you segue into conversations about death. By asking and answering questions, you give the child permission to remember the person who died. This is an important part of the healing process.
Additionally, support groups offer a safe place for teenagers to share their experiences and connect with others who understand what they’re going through.
Related Resource>>> Death can be a sensitive subject for kids of all ages, even teens or young adults who may have experienced it before. See the Bill of Rights for Grieving Teens by The Dougy Center to help talk to young adults about death.
3. Give your child or grandchild a creative outlet to express feelings.
There’s no timeline to grief, especially when it comes to a bereaved child. You may find that even days, weeks or months after final arrangements or the death that your child is still grieving or acting out.
If your child or grandchild is struggling to make sense of their grief, give him or her a creative outlet to express their feelings.
Using arts and crafts as an outlet gives grieving children the opportunity to open up about their emotions in a constructive way. Some activities that help promote the healing process include:
- Listening to music
- Playing an instrument
- Cooking family recipes
All of these activities can help children express their grief with others without necessarily having to use words. As the parent or grandparent, remember to honor their grieving style. While it may differ from yours, it’s important for the child to feel understood without the judgment of others.
Complimentary Guide: How to Help Children Cope with Death
There’s a common misconception that children may be too young or sensitive to attend a funeral or memorial service. While children express grief in their own way, you can help them better understand the concepts of death by involving them in services. To uncover suggestions for youth preparedness in memorialization, download the complimentary guide, Youth and Funeral’s: Understanding the Important Role Funeral and Memorialization Play in the Lives of Youth.