Child Grief

 

TELLING A CHILD ABOUT A DEATH

One of the first things to consider when telling a child about a death is what is how you are handling the news of the lost.  If you are an emotional wreck, it may be a good idea to have support there when you talk to the child, such as a family member, close friend, or professional who specializes in grief.  Here are a few guidelines that may help when breaking the news:

  • Tell the child about the death honestly and in simple termsAvoid vague phrases such as ‘passed away’ or ‘went to a better place’
  • Provide a safe environment for the child to express their feelings
  • Give the child permission to ask questions and answer them truthfully
  • Let the child know what to expect over the next few days
  • Allow the child to make their own decisions about participating in memorial services and viewing the body if it is suitable for viewing
  • Provide other opportunities for the child to celebrate the life of the loved one who died
  • Assure the child that the death was not their fault
  • Reassure the child that they will be cared for and supported
  • Let the child know that you will be there for future questions

NORMAL RESPONSES TO GRIEF IN CHILDREN

Like adults, the spectrum of different ways a child will respond to grief is limitless.  There are four different areas where you are likely to see grief expressed: emotionally, physically, psychologically, and behaviorally. 

Some Common Emotional Responses
  • Sadness or Hopelessness
  • Anger or irritability
  • Fear or anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Loneliness 
  • Numbness
  • Guilt
  • Shock
Some Common Physical Responses
  • Fatigue, weakness or low energy
  • Headaches or stomach pains
  • Shortness of breath or chest tightness
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
Some Common Behavioral Responses
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Withdrawal from family or friends
  • Tearfulness
  • Absentmindedness
  • Heavy sighing
Some Common Psychological Responses
  • Denial
  • Confusion
  • Distractedness
  • Nightmares


KEEPING COMMUNICATION LINES OPEN

After you initially tell the child about the death it is important to continue to check in with them frequently.  Ask questions that will encourage the child to discuss their feelings and will help the child to remember the things they liked most about the person who died.  Avoid telling the child ‘you’ll get over it,’ ‘I know how you feel,’ or ‘don’t think about.’  A child should be allowed to share their feelings and thoughts as they process their grief.


ALTERNATIVE MEMORIAL IDEAS FOR CHILDREN

Not all children will want to be a part of a memorial or burial service, but that does not mean that they don’t want to remember the loved one who died.  Here are a few ways for a child to honor a deceased loved one:

  • Make a memorial box or scrapbook
  • Have the child write a story, poem or song
  • Have the child draw a picture or paint a picture
  • Ask if the child would like to make cookies to serve at the memorial
  • Plant a tree on bush in honor of the loved one
  • Light a candle on special days

 

 


Grief Resource List