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How to help a grieving child

Losing a loved one, such as a parent, sibling, or family member is catastrophic and terrible. Unfortunately, too many people experience this type of loss. In fact, 1 in 7 Americans will lose a parent or sibling before the age of twenty. When our own family experiences this intense loss, sometimes we find ourselves out of words. Our own grief combines with our hearts breaking for our children who remain, and we become confused about how we can support our child through this grief. Supporting our loved ones through a loss is sometimes as simple as lending an ear if they want to talk. Here are some tips for how you can support children through grief:

  • Be willing to listen: Create opportunities to openly discuss feelings, but be patient and do not force him to speak. Know that he will speak when he is ready. Children often are most talkative while going for a walk or drawing a picture, when direct eye contact is not occurring.

  • Validate feelings: Let him know that you understand how he feels and have experienced similar feelings, too. Focus on the feeling, even naming it if possible.

  • Answer questions: Children are curious, allow him to ask questions freely, and admit when you do not have the answer. Create an understanding that he can ask you any questions about what happened and how his life may be different.

  • Recognize fears and reassure: The death of a family member or loved one may cause your child to fear that you may die. If he asks if you or others will die, respond with a reassuring statement, such as: “I probably won’t die for a very long time, so I will be here to take care of you” or “If I die, there are people who would take care very good care of you, like Aunt Kelly, or Mimi and Poppi.”

  • Grieve openly and model appropriate expression of feelings: Allowing your child to see you express your own feelings will let him know that feelings (even negative feelings) are normal. Show him how you respond to these feelings- children learn by watching the adults around them.

  • Cherish memories: Creating a memory book can honor the good memories of the loved one and provide an opportunity to reflect upon and appreciate time spent together. Look through old pictures, tell funny stories, and continue to talk about the loved one


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