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How to Help Grieving Children

The grieving process of children is affected to a large extent by the age or stage of development of the individual child. Following are a list of suggestions that may be helpful in supporting a child’s grief process:
  1. Set time aside to talk with your child – explain the events occurring, why you are crying, etc.
  2. Children have a short “sadness span”. They will grieve for a short time, then go play. This is normal.
  3. Use basic words like “die” and “dead” to convey the message.
  4. If the child is under the age of 6, he may not be able to understand the permanence of the death.
  5. Use the deceased person’s name when referring to him/her.
  6. Avoid the phrases that “soften the blow” phrases such as “sleeping” “went on a vacation” “God took them”, or “God needed them more than we did”, etc. will only confuse and scare a child.
  7. Let your child ask question, then answer them truthfully! If they are not told the truth, they will create a fantasy. Be honest, simple and direct. If you don’t understand something, let your child know that too.
  8. Be sensitive to the age of your child, and his/her level of understanding – don’t offer information beyond the child’s comprehension, as it will only confuse matters.
  9. Read, or have your child read children’s book related to death, (many are available) and discuss them with your child.
  10. Play with the child, (e.g. dolls, drawing, imagining) in ways that will allow the child to express his/her feelings.
  11. Watch for T.V. programs or movies that might help your child’s understanding.
  12. Read books on helping a child through grief
  13. Share your feelings and experiences with the child if he/she is able to understand them.
  14. Let your child participate in the visitation, funeral or memorial service or visiting the cemetery. If the child does not want to participate, don’t force him/her.
  15. Accept help from others to watch your children and talk with them – but remember, you are the most important person to your child!
  16. You are a role model for your child – if you hide your grief, they will learn to hide it too.
  17. Educate yourself about the grieving process. Go to a support group! The more of an understanding you have, the more you can help your child.
  18. Let your child vent his/her emotions and acknowledge them, e.g. crying, hugging, etc.
  19. Watch for tell-tell signs of maladjustments, e.g. eating and/or sleeping disturbances over a long period of time.
  20. Enroll the child in a grief support group for children. If additional help is needed, seek counseling with a therapist who specializes in working with children, and specifically, children who are grieving.
  21. Remember, a child will have the same feelings we have, but a different level of understanding.
  22. Communicate to the child your appreciation of having had the deceased person around.
  23. Help the child to hold on to memories of their loved one. If the child was too young to have memories, help him/her get to know who the person was. Share pictures and stories.
  24. Discuss and have the child recognize changes in routine due to the death.
  25. Plan some things that you and your child can look forward to.
  26. Do not talk with your child as if you have all the answers that he/she must accept. If he is to find his own answers, he has to struggle with the problem himself.
  27. Children regrieve over and over again as they reach different developmental stages.
  28. Give them time!
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