Helping your child process grief

Any death is difficult for children to understand. Death that occurs unexpectedly is particularly difficult. As a parent, understanding your own grief reactions is the first step to helping your child cope. Children model behavior and coping skills from the adults around them. Here are some suggestions in supporting your child with grief and loss.

  • Acknowledge your own feelings about the loss using simple words. Children have no language and no model for grieving until adults provide them with words to use. Expressing your own feelings gives your child permission to feel what they are feeling.
  • Your child may become confused by too much information about what happened. Give basic, honest facts, without too many details. Remember that a child 's fantasy about what happened can often be more traumatic than reality. Use simple language that they can understand.
  • Help your child label and "name" their own feelings. Emphasize that all feelings are normal and OK.
  • When tragic events occur, young children may be afraid the same thing will happen to someone in their family. This fear may prompt questions from your child about their own safety. Provide verbal reassurance and physical comforting. Try to maintain a normal routine during the grieving process.
  • Talk with your child about their memories of the person. Help your child use creative outlets like art or reading books to express their feelings. A useful book for young children is The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst. This book is available at most bookstores.

Below is a list of resources and age-appropriate books to help support young children in grief and loss:

  • Grief in Children: Help the Kids Find their Way

 Developmentally appropriate books:

  • The Empty Place: A Child 's Guide Through Grief and Loss by Roberta Temes, Ph. D.
  • I Wish I Could Hold Your Hand… by Dr. Pat Palmer
  • Saying Goodbye by Jim and Joan Boulden
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