Coping with the death of a loved one or friend is not easy at any age, but it is especially difficult to help children process the complex emotions that come along with the loss of someone close to them. While each individual child and case is different, here are a few tips to help ease some of the sting of grief.
In children under the age of 8, it is important to help them understand death. Taking them to a wake or funeral service is a personal choice but even without attending a service, it is important to explain to them that the person who passed away is no longer with them. If your family is religious, it’s often a good time to say that the person who passed away is "with God” or "in Heaven”. Encourage them to cry if they feel sad but if they do not feel sad, don’t force them into being more emotional. Young children especially are not always emotional on the outside because they simply cannot process how complex such a loss can be.
For older children between 8 and 12, the rules for grief are a little different. Older children understand more than you think and are not always as ready to express their emotions. They may project their sadness and grief as anger or aloofness, as inattentiveness or insomnia. Encourage your child to write or journal. It will offer them a safe and mostly private space to express themselves. Occasionally ask to see that journal just in case those negative feelings are a little more than just grief over a lost loved one. Sometimes therapy is the best option for older children. Remind them that there is nothing wrong with seeing a professional. A therapist or grief counselor is there to help them.
There are also a myriad of resources available to help with children and grief. There are plenty of books on the subject both for the child and for parents. There are websites and blogs entirely dedicated to helping your child go through the grieving process.
Helping a child work through grief is vitally important to healing from the trauma of losing a loved one. We hope that these tips will help you and your family move through loss with grace.