Grief: Helping Children With Grief

Overview

It's important for adults to listen to a child and answer any questions or concerns. To express their feelings, children need an adult who makes them feel safe and secure. Childcare providers, teachers, and school counselors may also be able to help your child.

The ways children express grief are often different from the way adults express it. Children aren't always able to use words to say what they feel. Instead, they express their feelings through behavior.

Keep your child's age and emotional development in mind as you help your child through grief. Children adjust to loss and death in different ways as they grow and develop.

How to help a child during the grieving process

Here are some ideas for helping a child during the grieving process.

  • First, examine your own feelings about loss.

    This is especially important if you lost someone or something important as a child. It may help you recognize and understand your child's feelings. Think about what helped (and didn't help) you deal with the loss. The things that helped you may also help your child.

  • Help your child feel safe.

    Children need to feel safe and secure with an adult to express their feelings about loss. Let your child know that all feelings are normal.

  • Tell others about your child's recent loss.

    Child care providers, teachers, and school counselors may also be able to help your child work through grief.

  • Use activities to help your child express feelings about the loss.

    Choose an activity that fits your style and your child's age and developmental level. Consider your child's personality and comfort level in talking about feelings. Here are some ideas:

    • Read a book or watch a movie. Books and movies can help children understand the concept of loss and death. Ask a librarian to recommend good choices for your child's age. Talk with your child about the story and especially about your child's feelings.
    • Make up stories. Storytelling lets you and your child change what happens in the story. Your child can change sad feelings to more positive ones that provide comfort.
    • Draw pictures. Drawing feelings may be easier than talking about them. Ask your child to draw a picture of what's happening to your child. You can also draw a picture of what is happening to you. Explain what you drew and ask your child to explain their picture. You can use drawing along with storytelling to help your child deal with grief.
    • Act out feelings through play. You can use stuffed animals, puppets, or other toys to act out what's going on. Sometimes it's easier for a child to let a favorite stuffed animal to speak for them. A young child may find it easier to talk to a toy than to talk directly with an adult.
  • Evaluate the activity.
    • Observe your child during and after the activity. What emotions did your child express? Talk with your child about these emotions. Clear up any mistaken ideas your child has.
    • Practice the activity in the presence of another adult. Ask the adult to tell you how well they think the activity worked for your child.
    • If one activity doesn't work well, try another one.

Credits

Current as of: October 18, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
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

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