- Children see loss and death in different ways as they grow and develop. Tailor your help according to your child's age and emotional development.
- How you learned to deal with loss will affect how you help your child. Think about what helped you when you lost something as a child.
- Don't try to keep grieving a private affair. Ask child care providers, teachers, and school counselors to help your child express his or her feelings, concerns, and misconceptions.
Before you try to help your child deal with a loss, examine your own thoughts and feelings about loss, particularly about death. Recall your first experience with loss. What helped you deal with it? What was not helpful to you? This is especially important if you experienced your first major loss when you were a child. Remembering your experience may help you recognize and understand your child's feelings. Also, the things that helped you may also be helpful to your child.
Tell other significant adults in your child's life about his or her recent loss. Child care providers, teachers, and school counselors may also be able to help your child work through his or her grief.
Here are some steps for helping children during the grieving process:
- Provide safety and security. To express their feelings related to loss, children need an adult who makes them feel safe and secure. Consider your child's personality and his or her comfort level in talking about feelings and concerns.
- Consider the child's emotional development. Think about the child's age and feelings when you explain loss and death so that you can explain it in a way that he or she will understand.
- Use an activity. Activities create different ways for children to express their feelings related to loss. Try an activity that fits your style and your child's developmental level. If one activity does not work, try another one. Some suggestions include the following:
- Read books or watch DVDs. Books and DVDs can help children understand the concept of loss and death. Ask a librarian about books and DVDs for children your child's age. After reading the book or watching the DVD, talk with your child about the story and especially about his or her feelings.
- Make up stories. Storytelling lets you and your child change what happens in the story. Your child can change sad and gloomy feelings to more positive ones that provide warmth and comfort.
- Draw pictures. Drawing pictures of feelings may be easier than talking about them. Ask your child to draw a picture of what is happening to him or her. You can also draw a picture of what is happening to you. After finishing your drawing, explain what you drew and ask your child to explain his or her picture. You can use drawing pictures along with storytelling to help your child deal with grief.
- Play or act. Acting out feelings through play can be very helpful for some children. You can use stuffed animals, puppets, or other toys to act out what is going on. Sometimes it is easier for a child to allow a favorite stuffed animal to speak for him or her; it may be easier for a young child to talk with the animal, either alone or with an adult present, than to talk directly with an adult.
- Evaluate the activity. Observe your child during and after the activity. What emotions did your child express during the activity? What emotions did your child express afterward? Talk with your child about these emotions. Let your child know that all feelings are normal. Clear up any misconceptions he or she has.
Practice one of the activities above in the presence of another adult. After the activity, ask the adult to tell you how effective they think the activity was for your child.
Current as of: March 17, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Jean S. Kutner MD, MSPH - Geriatric Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine