June 26, 2012

Helping Your Child Deal with Grief

As parents, we want to protect our children from everything. Unfortunately, there is a whole world of life experience out there that we can’t control. One of the most difficult situations that every child faces eventually is grief. 
Grief can be the result of many events such as the loss of a family member, friend or pet, separation or divorce of parents, or a move to an unfamiliar town.

To help children cope with grief, it is first important to make sure that the children understand it is ok to grieve and every person grieves in a different manner. Just as people are different and enjoy different things, people also grieve differently and receive help and support in different ways.

Reassure Your Child that This Is Not His Fault:

The first thing you can do to help your child cope with grief is let him know that the death/loss is not his fault. Human nature often leads all of us to believe that there was something more that we could have done to prevent a situation. If a child feels that he is somehow responsible for the event, he can harbour unimaginable pain, guilt and anger. In this case, you need explain that you understand how he feels, but that it was absolutely not his fault and not was caused as a result of his actions.

Talk With a Child in Language He/She Can Understand:

Use language that reflects what the child can see, hear, touch, and feel. Provide factual information about the event to your child. 
If not provided with information a child may use his imagination and create unhelpful or inaccurate stories about what has happened
The child should be give an honest explanation of the death and the events that lead to it. Statements like “Grandmother has gone to sleep”, or “He was so sick”, are not good explanations, because children sleep and get sick. It is better to indicate that a certain organ was not functioning properly and as a result the loved one died.
“How do you explain death to a child? A good place to begin is with what you yourself believe about death and what comes after, says Dr Dina Hankin(2). “ You can explain while the person’s body won’t be with us anymore, their soul and memory will be.” Answer questions honesty. Vague answers often confuse children and increase their fears and uncertainty. “It’s also OK to tell a child “I don’t know” when they ask some of the tougher questions, like what is it like right before or after a person dies. “Just like anything, if you can be comfortable with it, your child probably will be as well.”
Dr Hankin often helps kids come to terms with the impending death of a terminally ill sibling. She stresses that “it is important to help children create positive, lasting memories of the person who is dying.” Children may want to draw pictures for the person who is ill or just spend time with them. “Don’t put pressure on them to do it in any particular way. Just give them the opportunity to do so", she advises.

Listen and Share:

Take the time to listen to what your child has to say and encourage him to be open. Share a similar experience you had, how it made you feel, and how you got through it. In the event that your child’s grief stemmed from the loss of a person or pet let him know that you are sad, too. It is OK for you to cry when talking about the loss. Explain why you are crying, e.g. you miss the person. Your child has to know that he is not alone. 
Remember, that you are his role model for how one goes about expressing grief. 
Expressing feelings of love is extremely beneficial at a time of loss.

Find Positive Diversions:

Children will feel an empty gap in their lives, especially if the loved one was a close member of the family. Having a picture or memorable item on hand to give to your child will help to fill that gap. It is also a good idea to have your children express their feelings. Feelings can be written down in the form of poetry or a letter. Giving your child a journal will give them a private place to store their thoughts. Encourage physical activity or artful expression. 
Help your child find ways to occupy his body and mind. 
You may meet some initial resistance, but in the long run, it will work wonder for him. Play with him at the park. Buy him a new art set. Help him get back into the things he enjoyed before the crisis hit.

Watch Your Child Behaviour:

Grief, depression and stress can cause behaviour changes. Keep an eye on your child’s behaviour. Early on, sadness, anger and confusion are common, expected and completely normal. 

If it has been 4 weeks since the event happened and your child refuses to leave your side, this may be a red flag that he is still having an extremely hard time coping with the situation. Pay close attention to long term displays of the following behaviour: nightmares, withdrawal, anger, separation anxiety. If you are seeing a consistent pattern of these behaviours, you may want to consider professional assistance.

Actively responding to your child’s sadness with the proper love and care, will strengthen your relationship and prevent ongoing hard ships related to the event. While the child’s grief is certainly individual and personal, the child is still grieving in a family environment. While these situations are difficult to handle, they also opportunities for your family to grow closer as a unit; to learn to hurt and heal together. 

Ten Lessons About Grief From Children

Teaching children about grief is an important task. They need to be informed about what they may be experiencing and be assured of being loved and supported. 
At the same time, adults can learn from observing the ways children grieve because more times than not, children are just like adults in their grief, yet more honest and candid. 
The following observations are from working with hundreds of children ages 7-16 who have lost a loved one.
Lesson 1:
Some things will make you cry, even when you don’t want to cry. You weren’t really planning on crying, but the memory was too strong not to cry. It’s ok to cry, especially when you’ve got people around you crying.
Lesson 2:
Sometimes you need to take a break from grieving. Learning the lessons of grief is an important task, but so is resting and having fun.
Lesson 3:
Just because someone is laughing and having fun doesn’t mean they’re still not hurting. Taking breaks from our grief doesn’t mean the grief isn’t still there. Calm water on the surface doesn’t mean it’s completely calm underneath.
Lesson 4:
It’s nice to know people are willing to listen to you, but it’s even nicer to have them be willing to wait until you’re ready to talk. Some people have trouble sharing their feelings. They need time to develop trust. They don’t care to let you know, until you have let them know that you care.
Lesson 5:
People who have been through like experiences of loss can communicate on a deep level, with or without words. You don’t necessarily have to hear someone talk about their pain to know it’s real, especially if you’ve experienced something similar.
Lesson 6:
Not everyone wants to participate in ‘group’ activities. Just as people are different and enjoy different things, people also grieve differently and receive help and support in different ways. A favourite book or story may not mean as much to someone else as it does to you. They may find help and support in other ways.
Lesson 7:
Helping children deal with their stuff will bring up your stuff. Time distances, but it doesn’t always heal. Experiencing a loss is not necessarily dealing with a loss. The adult in you may say it’s OK now, but the little child inside of you may still be hurting and need someone to understand.
Lesson 8:
The most meaningful, healing moments may not be on the agenda. A lot of good work at the children’s camp is dome during lesson time, but some of the best work is done sitting by the lake, getting the courage to leap off the tower onto the zip-line, or taking that one last step that helps you reach the top of the wall, knowing that if you climbed that wall there are other walls in your life that you can climb as well.
Lesson 9:
Kids are still kids. They shouldn’t want to stay up late and talk after “lights out” because they are grieving children, and grieving children are different. Not so. Grief is a part of you, but there are other parts, and that’s OK.
Lesson 10:
Even though it hurts to remember, you don’t ever want to stop remembering. As the balloons launch into the sky on Sunday morning at the children’s camp, they go in search of someone we believe will always be out there whether we can see them or not, and knowing that they may find a part of them helps us recover a part of us. Seeing through tears is still seeing. Hearing in silence is still hearing. Feeling with a broken heart is still feeling. It wasn’t in our power to keep you from dying, but our memories of you will live forever.

Enough is Enough Team Spirit Support Group

Team Spirit is a support group for children and young people who are experiencing anxiety, stress, anger, separation/divorce. It's a place for them to talk and express how they feel in a confidential and safe environment. Fun activities are based around learning effective strategies and coping skills in an interactive manner.
                         Call us now on 02 9542 4029
                        or visit our website: www.enoughisenough.org.au

1. www.parentline.org.au
2. Kids and Grief, How to explain death to children by Lisa Mosckwitz Sadikman
3. Michigan Network for Grieving Chidren, Understanding Children's Grief
4. www.aringinfo.org, Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Loved One
5. Helping Children to Cope with Grief by Kimberly Kim; http://www.gaganine.com/helping-children-to-cope-with-grief/
6. How to Help a Grieving Child, http://www.dougy.org/grief-resources


  1. “Take the time to feel what you feel. It’s ok to hurt, and it’s ok to cry. Allow yourself the experience of your emotions. The moment need someone to talk to, I’m ready to listen.”

  2. Thanks for the post! We've recently moved form Boston to a smaller town in NYS and our kid looks really depressed. No wonder, she's 6YO and is left alone without friends. I'll definitley take your advice into consideration.

  3. Amazing site. Thanks for sharing your thought with us.
    fostering agencies London

  4. Hi there!

    I just came up with your site and it has many interesting and helpful articles to go through! I specially loved the one about "TheHappiness Tool Kit" because sometimes is that easy and we can't see it! I know it is been a while without posting but I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing your posts on Glipho? I bet that our users would love to read your amazing stuff! It's a quite new social publishing platform, where you can connect to every social network accounts, really easy to use it and communicate with your followers. In additional, you are able to import the posts from your blog in a super-easy way without affecting it at all.

    Please, have a look and take a tour to know more about http://glipho.com/
    If you would like to set up your account, please do not hesitate to ask me for further information and I will send you an invitation.
    I hope you will join our Glipho community soon.

    All the best,