For most adults, the grieving process is not foreign. Regardless of whether you have personally experienced a loss, most people know what to expect after the passing of a loved one. It is the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who may need coaching during such a difficult time. Here are some suggestions for helping a child grieve:
- The most difficult time comes directly after a loved one’s death. Young children will likely be confused and unaware of what is happening.
- It is okay to let your child see you grieving; in fact, it can open the door for discussion.
- Allow the child to ask any and all questions that they may have, even if their questions make you feel uncomfortable.
- Answer all questions honestly and concretely, avoiding vague terms such as “passed away” or “went to Heaven.” This will eliminate the idea that the loved one may return.
- Use language that is age-appropriate but direct.
- Let the child be a part of the process, giving him or her choices in how to say their goodbyes. Having choices is important for children to feel involved.
- Talk about the person who died.
- Share memories, look at photos and use their name.
- Respect that grief is different for everyone.
- Simply listen. Children want to be heard. They want their feelings to be validated. Listen to your child talk without offering advice.
- Discuss ahead of time how a funeral or memorial service works so there are no surprises. Giving children an idea of what to expect can make the decision easier on whether to attend. Let them decide if they want to attend.
- Understand that children grieve in cycles and that it is okay to have periods where you are not feeling grief.
- In grief, there is no timeline. Don’t allow your child — or yourself, for that matter — to feel rushed through this. Take all the time that is needed.
Loss is very hard, but knowing that you are not carrying the burden alone can mean the world, especially to a child. Just remember to keep to a routine, spend extra time together and reminisce often on the people who you have loved and lost. You and your child will make it through this.