1. Children want to be told the truth
- Be honest, and tell them in age-appropriate and direct language.
- Ask them if they have any questions and clear up any misconceptions.
2. Children look to you as a role model for healthy grieving
- Share your feelings with them as long as they aren’t expected to “fix it”.
- Teach them coping strategies and include ways to comfort themselves in your absence.
3. Often children want to share their story and talk about the person who died
- Grieving children don’t want to forget the person who died – they also worry that others will forget their person.
- They need you to tolerate listening when they tell their story or share their feelings…over and over.
- Sharing memories and putting words to their feelings helps a child to make meaning of the loss and is vital to healthy healing.
- Connect your child to a support group or other community of children who are grieving so they can tell their story to an audience that truly understands.
4. Grieving children want you to know that their grief is long-lasting and they will always miss the person who died
- Like adults, grieving kids don’t just ‘get over it’—people die, but love doesn’t die.
- They will miss the person who died for as long as they live, and their grief will change over time as they grow and change.
- Children may often feel bewildered when other people in their life seem to have moved on.
5. Children need you to help them feel safe and to reassure them that there will always be someone to take care of them
- They may fear for your safety – especially when you are apart.
- They may need reassurance that there will always be someone in their life who will take care of them – either you or another trusted adult. Make a plan and let them know the details.
- They will need clear and consistent boundaries, limits and expectations – maintain their familiar routines and activities as much as possible.
6. Children benefit from being included in mourning rituals and other traditions
- Rituals help to give meaning and connection and will help your child better understand death.
- Give your child a voice when planning funerals or talking about how to celebrate holidays, birthdays and anniversaries – help them feel that they are an important part of the family.
- If you’re unsure about how much they can handle, ask if they want to be involved and respect their answer – kids know what they can handle.
7. Children often cope with grief and loss through play
- Typically, children cannot sustain prolonged grief and will need to take breaks from the sadness and engage in age appropriate, more playful activities – this may look like they are not grieving at all, but rest assured, they are – it just looks different than how you would grieve.
- Give your child a creative outlet to express their feelings—music, crafts, writing, art, games.
8. A grieving child’s behavior may change in unexpected ways
- Some children may not know how to express intense emotions (sadness, anger, fear), and they will instead express these emotions by acting out or regressing to behaviors more common to a younger child.
- Don’t criticize or blame, but instead be understanding, and provide them with a safe opportunity to talk about and act out how they’re feeling.
9. Grieving children often feel guilt
- Younger children believe that they are the cause of what happens around them.
- Even if the guilt is not justified and has no basis in reality, grieving children will often feel pangs of guilt.
- Children need to be reassured that they didn’t cause their loved one to die and that they aren’t a burden.
10. Every child grieves differently
- Like adults, every child has his or her own grief journey and own way of grieving.
- There is no ‘one’ way to grieve, nor is there a specified length of time to grieve
- Siblings grieve differently, and just because children come from the same family doesn’t mean their grief will be the same.
- It is important to honor each child’s unique story.
You can help your grieving child by:
- Listening – truly listening, with your full attention
- Really hearing – what they say, what they don’t say, and what they express with actions
- Following their lead- meet them where they are
- Validating their feelings- let them know that their feelings are important
- Sharing- talk about your own feelings and tell stories about your life
- Answering their questions – with honesty and compassion
- Practicing patience – with yourself and with your child – you’re both changing and growing
- Seeking out additional support and resources – advocate for and find the help they need
- Remembering and Creating- create new family traditions that honor your loved one