• Larry Deavers, LICSW

Helping Your Child Cope with Loss

Even as adults, it is difficult to adjust to the loss of someone close to us. For children, who typically do not have adult coping skills, the death of someone close can be especially challenging. So what can you do to help a young person through such a difficult time?

Helping a Child Cope:

1) Help your child understand that normal grief involves a range of emotions, including anger, guilt, and frustration. Explain that his or her emotions and reactions may be very different from those of adults.

2) Reassure your child that it is normal for the pain of grief to come and go over time. And explain that they can’t always predict when they will feel sad.

3) If your child is older, encourage him or her to talk with an adult outside the family, such as a teacher or a clergy member. You can also consider an age-specific support group.

4) Periodically check in with your child, if they are willing, by asking them how they are feeling (1=Less sad or angry, 10=Extremely sad or angry). This will provide an opportunity for them to share more feelings, ask questions, be alone for a while, or just receive a hug.

5) Keep routines and caregivers as consistent as possible, and continue setting limits on behavior. Care, consistency, and continuity help children feel safe.

6) Encourage spending time with friends and engaging in other age-appropriate activities.

7) Encourage your child not to make any important decisions during this time, like dropping out of band, sports or other activities. Staying active and engaged will help distract from their pain; excessively dwelling on the loss may make it more painful.

8) Reassure your child that it is never disloyal to the person who died to feel happy and to have fun. “They would want you to be happy.”

9) Speak with a grief counselor, child psychologist, or other mental health professional if you are concerned about your child's behavior.

Saying Good-Bye:

Children need to be allowed to choose how they say goodbye to a loved one.

1) Give preschool-age and older children the choice of attending memorial services. But, do not force them to attend if they do not want to.

2) Some children may want to attend a memorial service, but not a viewing or burial.

3) Allow older children and teenagers to help plan memorials, if they want.

4) Talk with children about what will happen at a service ahead of time. Consider visiting the church or cemetery.

5) Ask a trusted adult to help take care of young children at a servi