Helping Children Grieve
The death of a beloved family pet, a relative or friend is just as hard for children as for adults. I am sharing this as a mother of two young children who have been in the trenches for about two years coping with multiple deaths and guiding my children to a healthy and safe place of healing.The death of a beloved family pet, a relative or friend is just as hard for children as for adults. I am sharing this as a mother of two young children who have been in the trenches for about two years coping with multiple deaths and guiding my children to a healthy and safe place of healing.
Children do not understand nor process death rationally the way adults do, but they still feel the pain, confusion, uncertainty, fear, anger and sadness. It is important for adults, parents, and caregivers to put our children first so they can heal and learn how to understand what they are feeling. Children show their grief in different ways based on their age, how close they felt to the deceased, and the support we give them. Below are some of the things I did to help my children with our losses, their Grampy being the most painful.
Use clear, simple words. At the time of my father’s death, my son was just shy of nine and my daughter was three-and-a-half. I explained that Jesus had asked Grampy to come to heaven and help with all the animals there. I knew they would process the news of his death differently so I took each aside and after telling them, gave them time to absorb the news. As I sat on the floor with each of them crying in my arms, I realized they needed to know they were not alone in their grief.
Listening and comforting is huge! Some children will cry. Others will ask questions. Some do not seem to react at all. No matter how they respond, stay with them! Hug and reassure them. Answer their questions or just sit together.
Emotions will be raw so keep a close eye on them. Do they seem sad, worried, or upset? Ask about their feelings and really listen. Let them know it takes time to feel better. Share your feelings about the death, or death in general. Children might have difficulty sleeping or concentrating; they might have increased fears or worries for a while after the death. Provide comfort but do not dwell on the sadness. Children do better when they have a routine—try to get back to it as soon as possible! Go on family walks. Make art. Cook together.
Most importantly, give your child time to heal from the loss. Grief is a process that happens over time. The days, weeks and months ahead will be hard. Stay open for your children. Have them write down their favorite memories and put up pictures of the loved one. The worst thing you can do is avoid mentioning the person who died. Remembering the person with love will allow the happy memories to assist the healing process. You may find that when you look back, the help and comfort you provide for your children will also help you. +