Helping Your Child Through Grief & Loss

When we lose someone we love, the pain can feel overwhelming. When we are wrapped up in our own grief, it can be hard to know how to help our children get through theirs.  There are some things that are important to know when supporting our children as they deal with loss.

Take Care of Yourself:

 When you have suffered the death of a loved one, it’s important to get the support you need for yourself so you can be there for your children. While it’s healthy for your child to understand that you’re sad, seeing you completely overwhelmed or incapacitated by grief may be too much for them. The way you and your family cope with this loss will affect how traumatized your child may be as a result. It will also affect how they respond to future painful events. So, we want to minimize how much our children are exposed to extreme emotional reactions we may be having. These reactions are natural, but we need to protect our kids from prolonged exposure to them.  We also want to show them that it is ok and necessary to grieve, but life must also go on.

Ask for help with childcare if you need some space from your children to grieve. Allow others to come in or take the children for a while, so you can feel and express everything that may be weighing on you.  Allow others in your life to offer comfort and help with logistics- like if you’re planning a service. Continue to seek support after the loss first occurs, because your grief may be ongoing for some time. You can also seek out grief and loss groups where you can connect with others that understand what you’re going through. Therapy can also help us through our grief.  Grieving during Covid  can be especially painful, because we may not be able to come together and honor those who we have lost in the ways we would’ve in the past. Therefore, even if it’s virtually, it will be more important than ever to connect with others that can be there for you.

Helping Your Child: 

Children react differently to death than we do. Young children may have difficulty really grasping the concept of death, and may think a loved one will come back. This is normal. They may feel that they can do something to make someone come back.  It can help your little one to explain that even though a loved one can’t come back, he or she lives on in our hearts. If you have religious beliefs about what happens after someone dies that can be comforting to your child, share them. There are many children’s books that help children to cope with grief that you can read with your child such as I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm.. Having your children draw pictures or make a special scrapbook about their loved one can also help. 

You will need to be clear with your child to help their understanding. For example, saying things like a loved one has “gone to sleep” can be confusing and scary for a child. Be honest, but don’t give them more information than they can handle. Respond as best you can to their questions, but don’t volunteer information that may be frightening to them. 

 It is normal for your child to worry that since a loved one has died, others in their life may die as well.  Your children may need lots of reassurance that you will be here and they will always be cared for and loved.  Children may also be afraid that they may die and need to be reassured they are safe and will live for a long time. 

It is normal for your child to cry one minute, and then laugh and play the next. This doesn’t mean they are no longer sad, but are protecting themselves through play. Encourage your child to express all of their feelings and that everything they feel is ok.  Some regression and unpredictable behavior from your child is to be expected. 

Consider getting therapy for your child to help with grief and loss. While you can be there for your children, your own grief may make it challenging for you to support them on your own. Therapy can help your child to get through grief, reduce trauma, and provide skills to help your child manage difficult times that may lie ahead. Let your child’s teachers and guidance counselor know if your family has experienced the death of a loved one, so they can support your child and offer resources for outside therapy if necessary.

Death is a painful and inevitable part of life. We can help our children to understand this, but that we can go on and carry with us the love and joy our loved one gave us.