When a child experiences a death of a loved one or pet, they can feel and show their grief in different ways. How kids cope with the loss depends on things like their age, how close they felt to the person who died, and the support they receive. Children can express loss differently and there is no one way to process loss. After losing a loved one, a child may go from crying one minute to playing the next. Their changeable moods do not mean that they aren’t sad or that they have finished grieving. Playing can be a defense mechanism/ allow for respite in order to prevent them from becoming overwhelmed. It is also normal to feel depressed, guilty, anxious, or angry at the person who has died, or at someone else entirely. Very young children may regress and start wetting the bed again, or slip back into baby talk.
Here are some things parents can do to help a child who has lost a loved one:
When addressing the loss use simple, short phrases to break the news. You can say something like, “I have some sad news to tell you. Grandma died today.” Give your child some time and room to take in your words. Do your best to listen and provide comfort. Every child reacts differently to learning that a loved one has died. Some kids cry. Some ask questions. Others seem not to react at all. That’s OK. Stay with your child to offer hugs or reassurance. Answer your child’s questions or just be together for a few minutes. Its ok if you do not have the answers to all their questions. If you have any religious beliefs about death, they often times can be helpful to share at this time. If not, that’s ok. Many kids can find comfort knowing the loved one or pet lives on with us in our heart and memories.
It’s good for kids to express whatever emotions they are feeling. There are many good children’s books about death, and reading these books together can be a great way to start a conversation with your child. Since many children aren’t able to express their emotions through words, other helpful outlets include drawing pictures, building a scrapbook, looking at photo albums, or telling stories.
Whether or not to attend the funeral is a personal decision that depends entirely on you and your child. Funerals can be helpful for providing closure, but some children simply aren’t ready for such an intense experience. Never force a child to attend a funeral. If your child wants to go, make sure that you prepare him for what he will see. Explain that funerals are very sad occasions, and some people will probably be crying. If there will be a casket you should prepare him for that, too.
Give your child time to heal from the loss. Grief is a process that happens over time. Be sure to have ongoing conversations to see how your child is feeling and doing. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting about the loved one. It means remembering the person with love, and letting loving memories stir good feelings that support us as we go on to enjoy life.
If you would like help navigating the grieving process with your child, then please reach out today for your free consultation. Call our office at 407-355-7378 and get in touch with a Mental Health Counselor who can assist on your journey of healing.