When someone we know is hurting over the death of someone they love, the first questions we ask ourselves are, “What do I say?” and “What should I do?” We want to help, but we often don’t know what to do or feel powerless to make a difference.
Here are some practical ideas on ways you can help a grieving child through your day-to-day conversations and actions.
- Use simple and direct language like died, death and dead. Stay away from vague euphemisms like passed on, lost, passed away, went to sleep. Children are concrete-thinkers and those terms can be confusing and even frightening. To a young person, if a person is lost, they may be able to find them and bring them back.
- Help your child find the words to express his or her feelings. Let them cry, be sad or be angry. Keeping the grief hidden inside won’t make it go away.
- Reassure them that it is okay to play, to laugh, to have fun and to enjoy life. Many times, kids will feel that any fun or joy is disrespectful of the person who died. This is new territory for them, they need you to guide them through it—even if it seems obvious to you.
- Give honest answers to their questions and provide simple information about how the death happened and what happens when a person dies. For younger children, try to keep your answers on their level of understanding. This will help them avoid confusion.
- Share your situation with your child’s school and your faith community leaders. Often they have many resources available to help for your child. Remember as your child advances to another grade, share the death with the new teacher. Grief is on-going and your child’s grief will show from time-to-time for many years.
- Give your children the choice to be involved in the funeral planning process and to attend the funeral or other services. Explain what each term means in clear, direct terms. For example, “Burial means putting the body in a big box and burying it in the ground at a place called a cemetery. We can go to the cemetery sometimes when we want to remember or be close to the person who died.”
- It is common for your pre-teen or teen to act as if nothing has happened. They might be concerned about fitting in or being perceived as “different” from the other kids.
- Help your child or teen find ways to honor and remember the person who died. We have developed some ideas that may work for you.
- Here is a list of books to read with your child or share with your teen.
We have other information geared toward helping children in grief. If you have any concerns about how your child is coping with a death, contact Fairview's Youth Grief Services. We are here to help you and your children.