Grief in children exhibits itself differently than bereavement in adults. Below are some suggestions when helping children to cope with death.
Explaining to Children – Concrete words that children understand are important. Avoid using words like “sleeping”, or “pass away”. These words may seem gentler to us as adults, but to a child they may only cause confusion. Better simple and direct.
Tell the truth at a simple level – even if it’s a complicated bereavement – don’t lie. Children will know it doesn’t add up. They are very intuitive.
A funeral director who had some experience with grief in children gave me a great suggestion.
When my daughter’s father died the funeral director told me to take a beautiful empty shell and explain that just like the shell once held a living creature but now held none, so too her father’s body. She could see his body, but there was no longer a spirit in his body.
I found another wonderful tangible help. There is a verse in the Bible.
“You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book.” TLB
- I made her a "teardrop bottle" that she could carry around with her.
It helped her to remember that God cared.
A dear friend of mine gave my daughter a sweet little book about heaven,
It doesn’t necessarily talk about death, but tells what heaven is like in simple terms even young children can understand. It gave her a little bit better grasp of what heaven is like.
Don’t pretend that you are not sad (obviously don’t be hysterical in front of them) – but be real – that helps children have permission to express emotions too.
Consider taking the young children away from heavy funeral stuff for a time. Let them play and blow off stress and steam. They cope differently than adults. Therefore we adults need to remember children are not little adults. Don’t get mad at their reactions – allow for their own struggle.
Children might also worry about others dying. Try to give them simple reassurance.
Let them grieve on their own timeline.
Common Reactions of Grief in Children
1) Acting out feelings rather than talking
2) Changes in eating, sleeping and behavior
3) Wanting to sleep with you
4) Regressive behaviors- bed wetting, thumb sucking
5) Being angry, frustrated, restless, prone to temper tantrums
6) Lack of concentration and energy
Another good book to use as a resource is the book below.Bereaved Children and Teens: A Support Guide for Parents and Professionals
For other book suggestions see my Bereavement Books page.
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