Well Being

When Loss Comes Early: 15 Tips for Supporting a Grieving Child

When a child loses someone close to them, our instinct is to want to step in and fix what hurts.

But…you can’t fix grief. And caring adults who do try to “fix” or “solve” a child’s grief will be frustrated, say bereavement counselors at Fernside Grief Center.

For more than 30 years, Fernside has supported thousands of grieving families in the Greater Cincinnati area. They advise that caring adults should honor and support what the child is feeling, not “fix” it.

There are many ways to do so, and they offer the following tips on how to be present to a grieving child:

  1. Allow the child to grieve. Grief is a normal response to losing someone who was loved or important, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Each individual grieves in their own unique way, including siblings. Some children grieve openly while others are quieter. Each child has different concerns, questions, feelings and grief styles.
  2. Children grieve sporadically. At times, your child might focus on the death by asking questions or crying. Other times they might seem unaffected. Children reprocess their grief as they move through developmental stages. Events like holidays, birthdays and milestones (graduations, mitzvahs, weddings, etc.) can intensify grief.
  3. Be available. Listen. Encourage the child to share their thoughts and feelings. Help them find their own words. Acknowledge and validate the child’s feelings.
  4. Do not set a time limit on grief.
  5. Expressing your own feelings can let children know it’s okay to express theirs. You might say: “I can see you’re feeling sad today and I’m sad too.” “Remember when your sister used to sing that silly song?” “Your Mom loved the way you played soccer.” “I miss him today, too.”
  6. Some children may believe that something they did, said or thought might have caused the death. Reassure them that the death was not their fault.         
  7. Be patient if the child wants to discuss what happened more than once. This is especially important for a very young child and/or a child who was present at the time of death. Be patient.
  8. Children may ask questions about the details of the death over a period of time. Let their questions guide you as to how much information they need. The information can help a child make sense of what has happened.
  9. Memorial ceremonies are an opportunity for your child to remember the person who died. It can be helpful to include your child in the visitation, funeral, memorial service or trip to the cemetery. Prepare them beforehand by describing what will happen in clear and simple terms.
  10. Encourage your child to participate in the ceremony. Taking part in even some of the rituals helps the child to understand and feel less alone. They can choose a favorite song or story for the service, write a note to go inside the casket, or create a collage of photos.
  11. It’s normal for children to feel angry, guilty, frustrated and scared. Encourage safe ways for your child to express their feelings. This includes creating art, punching a pillow, listening to or making music, getting exercise and/or keeping a journal.
  12. Try to maintain some of your normal routines. It can feel comforting to know what to expect. But you should be realistic about how much any of you can do. Everyone may appreciate a temporary scaling back from a full schedule.
  13. If you can, put off any big changes. When it’s time for a change, be sure to let your child know.
  14. It might be hard for your child to see their friends or to go back to school. While some children want to be with their friends right away, other children may need more time.
  15. Work closely with your child’s teachers and school staff can help create a supportive environment for your child.

Fernside, established in 1986, is the nation's second oldest children's grief center and remains a national leader in providing grief support services, outreach and education to the community and families. It is a non-profit organization offering support and advocacy to grieving families who have experienced a death. Fernside offers peer support for grieving families – children, teens and adults – and works to increase community awareness of grief issues through community outreach. An affiliate of Hospice of Cincinnati, Fernside services complement Hospice of Cincinnati's comprehensive bereavement program by addressing the unique needs of children.

All services at Fernside are provided free of charge with the help of generous donors. If you have a child who might benefit from Fernside services, go to http://fernside.org/ or call 513 246 9140.

Tags Parenting , Well Being