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How to Help a Child Cope With Loss and Grief

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
Mom consoles young daughter

When a loved one dies, it’s a sad and difficult time for the whole family. Children who experience the death of a loved one need extra care and attention to help work through their emotions.

Each child will process their grief differently, depending on their age and how close they felt to the person that died. Part of helping a child understand and deal with grief is meeting them where they are and finding age-appropriate ways to help them express their feelings, says Allison Remy MSSA, LISW, CGP, the Joanie and Tom Adler Endowed Director of Parent Bereavement Programs at University Hospitals.

6 Tips to Support a Child

It’s important to make each child know that their feelings are valid, there is no right or wrong way to feel, and every loss is worthy of their grief – whether it’s a grandparent, sibling, friend or even a beloved family pet.

Remy recommends the following strategies to help you guide your child through feelings of grief and loss:

  1. Use simple, concrete language to talk about death. Keep your words straightforward, brief and age-appropriate when talking to your child about what happened to their loved one. Avoid using euphemisms about death that might confuse a young child (e.g. “Grandma went to sleep.”) If your family is religious, you can include those beliefs in your explanation as well.

  2. Put your own grief into words. Sometimes children have difficulty identifying and talking about their emotions. Telling your child about your own feelings of sadness, anger or confusion may help them recognize their own feelings and encourage them to open up to you.

    “It’s OK for your child to see you sad. You can grieve in front of them,” says Remy. “They will mirror your behavior, so make sure they know their feelings are valid and they can express them to you.”

  3. Listen, comfort and let your child ask questions. It’s normal for a child to be confused when a loved one dies, and they may have questions. Make sure they know it’s ok to ask questions, and do your best to answer them honestly and in an age-appropriate way. Check in with your child frequently and ask them how they are feeling. They may not always feel like talking, but make sure they know you are there to listen, comfort and support them.

  4. Plan activities to help them process their grief. There are a wide range of options, depending on the child’s age and interests. Remy says things like coloring, journaling, music and reading children’s books about feelings and grief are all ways to help your child work through their grief.

  5. Help your child memorialize their loved one. Encourage your child to remember their loved one in a way that resonates with them. Some ideas include writing down stories about their loved one, drawing pictures, creating scrapbooks/photo albums, or planning an activity such as planting a tree in their memory. Don’t be afraid to talk and share stories about your loved one – it will help keep their memory alive and let your child know that it’s ok to talk about them.

  6. Seek out support or counseling if necessary. Some children may have a more difficult time processing their grief, and that’s ok. Sometimes it just takes them longer, so it’s important to be patient and give them the time and space they need. However, if you feel your child needs additional support, resources such as support groups, grief counselors and therapists can be helpful.

    “Don’t be afraid to reach out for help on how to talk to your kids,” says Remy. “You don’t have to do everything yourself. Support is always available.”

Related Links

University Hospitals Parent Bereavement Program is working to build a safe community for people who have endured the loss of a pregnancy or child by providing support and resources for grieving parents and families.

For more information, call 216-844-8254 or email HEAL@UHhospitals.org.

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