Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult for everyone, but it is especially hard for children. Feelings of sadness and confusion over the matter of death can be overwhelming for kids. As a parent, grandparent, teacher, or other important adult in the life of a child, your openness, mindfulness, and responsiveness to feelings or questions they express can make all the difference in helping them heal after a loss.
What to say
Children will probably have many questions as they cope with the loss of a loved one. They may be scared or confused, so remind them that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to think about death. Here are some topics to consider discussing with your children, whether they ask them or not.
- How and why people die
- What happens when someone dies
- How the loved one died
- What will change
- What will stay the same
What to do
Beyond just thinking or talking about the loss of a loved one, encourage children to participate in any of these activities to feel better. Not all these ideas work for all kids, as each person copes with loss and sadness differently.
- Say a prayer
- Practice something the deceased person taught you, like a card game or family recipe
- Create a scrapbook about the loved one, filled with stories, pictures, memories, how that person made you feel, how you and that person were similar, how you were different, what the person taught you, and what the person was like.
- Talk to other loved ones in your life that you turn to when you are sad, like teachers, aunts, uncles, cousins, or friends
- Talk about all the other people in your life that love you
- Create a memory box
- Plant a tree for the deceased person
- Play with a friend
- Write a story
- Draw a picture
- Sit quietly
- Tell stories about the loved one
Grieving takes a toll on the spirit, mind, and body, so your child may experience stomachaches, headaches, good dreams, bad dreams, or trouble concentrating. With so many family and friends around also going through grief and sadness, children often become even more confused and overwhelmed. Although it's difficult, talking about your feelings with children truly helps them through the healing process.