How to Help Children With Grief

For a child, losing a grandparent, sibling, parent, friend, or even a pet is complicated and confusing for them. Parents and caregivers may wonder how they can help children with grief. What to say, who should say it, and when it’s best to say it are some of the questions you might ask yourself. Even though you can’t shield children from the pain of loss, you can still help them develop coping skills that will be useful for them for the rest of their lives.

The majority of children are aware of death, even though they don’t fully comprehend it yet. In cartoons and films, death is often a recurring theme, and some of your kid’s peers may have already lost someone close. Nevertheless, it’s a different and frequently confusing process for children to feel grief firsthand. 

Children Need a Safe Space to be Heard

As a parent or caregiver, no matter how much you’d like it, you can’t protect a child from the pain of loss. What you can do is help them feel safe and heard. Empower and encourage a child to communicate their emotions. You will help them develop positive coping habits that will serve them well in the future.

One of the most useful and healing things that adults can do for children is to listen to their experiences without judging, evaluating, or trying to fix them. Well-meaning adults often try to reassure a child with phrases like “I know how you feel” that tend to undermine their feelings. Even if our intentions are in the right place, these responses usually invalidate the child’s experiences and emotions.

Instead, use more open-ended questions like “What’s that been like?” or “How has this made you feel?”. Without the pressure to respond in a certain way, children are more likely to share their feelings.

Kids Experience Grief Differently

Children often have different ways to process grief from their families. Some kids want to talk about the loss, while others want to isolate. Some like to keep busy, and others like to withdraw from everything and stay at home. Small kids might become clingy and regress to wetting the bed, while others may have changeable moods.

It’s vital for the healing process of families to recognize and respect that each child grieves in their own way. Listen to kids talk about their emotions and observe their actions. You will help them clarify these emotions and acknowledge them.

Who Should Give the News and How?

It’s best if the person closest to the child delivers the sad news, even if it’s a parent who is also grieving. If the grieving parent is too unsettled to provide the news calmly, the next closest person to the child should be the one telling the child.

When discussing death with a child, don’t use euphemisms. Kids are too literal, and you can confuse them even if it’s not your intention. It’s best for you to be direct.

Follow Their Lead

Children have different death-related concerns and questions that differ from adults. It’s most beneficial for kids to ask questions and then respond in the best possible (but staying age-appropriate). Don’t be surprised if young kids are concerned about themselves for the most part. That’s just how young kids are.