Experiencing the death of a loved one can be a very difficult process for everybody, and children are not the exception. The grieving process may be difficult whether the loss is a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, or even a family pet. Moreover, no child or adolescent will cope with grief the same exact way. The way they grieve will be dependent on their age, personality, situational factors and many other factors. However, there are some ways that caregivers can support children and adolescents experiencing grief. The following are some tips that can be used by parents and caregivers to help support children and adolescents cope with loss.
Telling children and adolescents can be difficult, especially when the person informing the child or adolescent is a grieving parent.
1. Make sure to provide a safe space where you can share the news with your child. It is important that the children have a safe space to react and express their emotions freely.
2. Use age-appropriate language that the child will understand. Keeping it short, simple, and direct while avoiding euphemisms, as it can help reduce confusion about the death of a loved one. Using euphemisms can also give an incorrect impression about death.
3. Provide children with the comfort of asking questions as research has suggested that children want to obtain more information about the death of a loved one.
4. Be accepting of their feelings and emotions. Parents and caregivers should accept their children’s emotions even if the child may not feel as sad or impacted by the loss.
5. Consider how your grief impacts your ability to connect and support your child or adolescent. Children and adolescents will be less likely to discuss their feelings and emotions if they feel the need to protect their parents or caregivers by not discussing the grief.
Encourage children to share their thoughts and feelings: One way to teach children that it is ok to express their feelings in a healthy manner is by modeling the act. Parents can serve as role models for children and, hiding your grief may give the child the impression that expression of feelings is wrong or unacceptable. Open communication is key when helping children express their emotions.
Use Other Methods of Communication: Parents and care givers can help the child or adolescent express their feelings using other methods including art, music, reading or through writing. Parents can incorporate the use of books to explain others’ experiences. The Child Mind Institute provided tips and a list of recommended books for children and adolescents of all ages. Other books for different ages can be found at: Journey Care & American Psychological Association books to help children cope.
1. Researchers have noted that art can be one method to help the child express themselves when using words is too difficult for them. Likewise, music can be beneficial as it can be utilized in many different forms and, can serve as a distraction and can even be used to teach skills such as relaxation skills (such as deep breathing).
2. Use technology and phone applications to help children find healthy coping skills such as the phone application, Calm.
Maintain Routine and Structure: It is important to give the child or adolescent time to grief and mourn, and it can also be beneficial for the child or adolescent to have a sense of security and structure from participating in regular routines.
Use Community Resources: Reach out to hospitals and community mental health centers for support groups for your child. Support groups can help children find other children who have had similar experiences and it will provide children with the opportunity to share their feelings with others who they can relate to. It will also provide your child with the ability to learn coping skills. Reach out to religious and spiritual organizations that can provide support and comfort.
Keep the Memory Alive: Remembering positive memories with the loved one is a part of grief and can help heal. Make sure the child knows that it’s ok to discuss memories of their loved one.
Be aware and alert: Consider that children coping with loss may display a variety of changes including behavioral changes, increased anger, irritability, difficulty with concentration, appetite or sleep disturbances, feelings of sadness or anxiety, resorting to substances to cope, and more. Grieving is a process that takes time and should not be rushed; however, it is important to monitor symptoms and consider getting professional help if the symptoms are impairing the child’s ability to function.
Albuquerque, S., & Santos, A.R. (2021). “In the Same Storm, but Not on the Same Boat”: Children Grief During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.638866
Child Mind Institute. (2021). Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://childmind.org/
Łęgowska, E., & Krakowiak, P. (2018). Support in Bereavement: Practical Solutions for Helping. Journal of Psycho-Educaitonal Sciences, 7(3), 67-72. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1253008.pdf