How to Handle Grief
Helping Children With Grief
- Be aware of what you yourself are feeling; have some safe ways of expressing your feelings both with children and away from children.
- Provide ample time and a comfortable physical space to listen.
- Respect whatever unique ways children express their feelings; know that their expression is likely to be intense, brief, and repeated.
- Arrange some physical methods for children to express their feelings, especially anger. Examples: clay, paints, old magazines or telephone books for ripping, blocks, etc.
- Do not overload children with information; answer only the questions they ask. Be patient when they repeatedly ask the same questions.
- Offer lots of appropriate choices for decision- making–often. Death may bring feelings of losing control.
- Answer children’s questions with simplicity and honesty. “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. Describe death and dying in literal terms.
- Remember that young children will generalize and associate about important people and emotions. Example: if a sibling died in the hospital, then hospitals are likely to hold certain fears.
- The basics count all the more. Regular routines, schedules, familiar people and places are best and good food and a warm bed are comforting.
- Know that a child will grieve cyclically–at each new developmental level he/she will relive his/her loss as he/she continues to integrate the loss into his/her life at new ages.
- Observe that a child grieves as part of a family, and the entire normal family structure has shifted. This may mean a change in roles and additional loss to grieve.
- Respect, encourage, and honor a child’s feelings, whether they are fear, grief, sadness, guilt, anger or love. These are natural feelings that help the child process, integrate and heal from the loss.
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