The Grief of Children is expressed many times in a different manner than ours.  A child's grief process is compounded in that they do not have the reasoning capabilities as do adults.  There emotions seem to be exaggerated and things seem larger than life.  Don't sell a child short.  A child to whom given proper explanations, can deal and handle crises sometimes better than adults.  

It is important when dealing with a child to be truthful. As parents, we often want to protect children from the pain of grief. But don't cover up the truth of a death by lying or be honest and communicate.  Give time each day to answer questions that your children might have about death.  Death is a natural part of life's cycle and something we all have to experience.

Ways to Help Children Cope

  • Explain truthfully in terms that a child can understand.
  • Encourage the child to express his/her feelings. 
  • Be accepting of the child's emotions and reactions.  Consol them and comfort them when they need it.
  • Be patient.  Children may need you to explain what happened many times or they may need to ask the same question time and again.  This is normal for a child and even though your nerves may be on edge remember that the child is just trying to understand.
  • Don't keep your feelings from your child.  Share your feelings and allow the child t comfort you.  This gives the child a sense of strength and a lesson in caring and compassion.
  • Maintain the usual stability, order and security in children's lives.  Children need the status quo of everyday life to help them feel secure. Children's school work or school life may be affected by the death.  Advise the school and teacher of the situation. 
  • Your instincts may be to shield your child from the funeral and ceremonies.  Allow your child to make some decisions about participating in the family rituals, i.e., visitation, funeral and socializing after the funeral.  Be sure to explain in advance what each ritual entails.  Children know what they can or want to participate in.

Explanations that may confuse children

Children are very concrete thinkers and understand things you say in a very literal way.  Some of the explanations we use with children can actually make the grief process more difficult or cause problems later in life.

  • Telling a child that the deceased went on a long journey or moved away can be very detrimental to the child.  The child is capable of seeing what is happening around them.  They may wonder why everyone is crying if the deceased just moved.  It will create more questions that will confuse the child.  The child may wonder why the deceased left them and feel abandoned. 
  • Telling children that the deceased was sick and had to go to the  hospital may create fear of doctors and hospitals.  The child might think they may die if they need to go to the hospital themselves. 
  • Telling children that God was lonely and needed the deceased may create anger towards God.  The child will then think that God is selfish and not want to do things that might make God happy.
  • Telling a child that the deceased went to sleep can create a fear of going to bed.  Children may fear going to sleep wondering if they will wake up or not.

With your loving support, concern and guidance a child will make it through a difficult time learning another of life's lessons.

Children's reaction to death

Children, not unlike you, may react to death in a variety of different ways.  They may experience all of the emotions of the grieving process or they may experience just a few.  As with you, there are no rules to what feelings may first arise.  Deal with their feelings in a loving, caring manner.  Be careful to really listen to what your child is expressing and trying to tell you. If you see that your child is needing counseling to help them through this rough time arrange with a school counselor or a professional to help them. 



Copyright 2000 Patricia Mischell & The Positive Living Center
 All Rights Reserved

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