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First-Time Losses: How to Teach Kids About Grief

Explaining the realities of death to a child is difficult for any parent to do, but being able to handle this conversation in an honest, age-appropriate way is an important step in helping your child learn to cope with mortality. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind the first time your child suffers the loss of a loved one.

Be Honest and Straightforward

Tell your child about the loss in clear language that they can understand. For example, say “Uncle Joe died today” instead of using euphemisms like passed away or went to sleep. Avoiding the issue can lead to feelings of distrust as well as confusion as the child draws their own conclusions to fill in missing information.

Encourage Free Expression

Allow your child to speak openly of the family member, friend, or pet who has died. However, don’t be alarmed if your child seems to take the loss in stride. Very young children especially are unable to understand the finality of death. Every child is unique, and each will grieve in their own way.

Model the Process

Talk about your own feelings with your child and let them know it’s OK to feel sad or angry about the loss, but that playing, laughing, and having fun are OK too. Seeing you go through the process of grief allows your child to become comfortable processing their own feelings and understanding how to deal with loss.

Connect with Others

Children can feel alone when coping with a significant loss, such as the death of a parent or sibling. Support groups for children who are grieving are often led by a loss counselor who facilitates the sharing of feelings that can help children cope with their grief.

Share Memories

Encourage your child to share memories of the loved one who passed away. Drawing pictures and writing letters can also help children express the cherished memories of the person or pet. Talking freely about the loss is also a way to facilitate the grieving process.

Maintain a Routine

While it’s important to answer any question your child has honestly and provide emotional support while he or she copes with the loss, it’s OK to resume normal life as soon as your child wants to do so. Time with friends and engaged in favorite activities provides a distraction from the painful feelings and shows your child that life moves on, even when we suffer a loss.

Suffering a loss is never easy and helping children through the process can be even more fragile. Use these tips to help children understand and come to terms with loss.

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