Helping Children Grieve
Experiencing loss is an inconceivably harsh reality. An overwhelming set of emotions overtakes the body and the mind. Children are not exempt from experiencing loss—an unfortunate, but true, fact. However, an unsightly part of life, children should also not be shielded from loss. They, too, should grieve, and there are many ways they can be guided and encouraged through the process.
It is important to remember that tears are healing—each one releases hurt, sadness, and pain. It stimulates the emotional process of grieving.1 The child should not feel that he or she needs to protect anyone from their very real feelings during grief.1 They should be reminded that it is perfectly okay—healthy, in fact—to cry when a death or loss is experienced.1 Their sadness allows them to empathize with others who are feeling the same, and this is a beautiful thing.1
Children are known for their wild and creative imaginations.1 As their vocabulary has yet to fully mature, they use imagery and play to test theories and express themselves.1 They play with ideas that are fresh and curious.1 Their curiosities should be encouraged and satisfied, as this will help them grow, understand, and accept the obstacles they will face in life.1 Listen to them carefully.
During grief, it is natural to experience a wide range of emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.1 Children are expressive and should be encouraged to communicate how they feel.1 If they acknowledge their feelings and express them, they will be able to let go of the painful emotions.1
When a loss occurs, it can be devastating; however, children should be reminded to remember the good times.1 Go back over treasured memories of times they spent with their loved one—however, be sensitive to how much is too much or when it should be brought up.1 Balancing the good thoughts with the bad is important.1 If they have religious or spiritual beliefs about the afterlife, use it to give them hope.1
During this time of change and grief, it is extremely important to keep the child’s life as normal as possible.1 Stick to their regular daily routines: school, meals, homework, bedtime, playtime, extracurricular activities.1 This sense of normalcy is comforting and gives a child a sense of safety.1
While it is devastating to watch a child experience loss, it is the job of adults to structure their lives and validate their experience.1 Lots of love and support help to guide them through this difficult time.1 Down the road, loss will make more sense to them, but until then, they need adults to create their safe and loving world.1