How to help your child after a loved one dies

One of the most difficult things for parents is watching their child grieve after the death of someone they love. The emotions we face after a death are similar regardless of age, but so often, kids have yet to fully understand the finality of death.

What makes grief difficult for parents is you can't make it better. Your child may feel depressed, angry, confused or anxious; they now grasp the reality that people they love die, and this can be frightening.

People often experience grief reactions in waves that come and go. Often, grief is most intense soon after someone has died. But some people don't feel their grief right away. They may feel numbness, shock, or disbelief. It can take time for the reality to sink in that the person is gone.

It's important to recognise that many children struggle with talking in the same way that adults may discuss these feelings. Consider taking a walk with them while they talk; engaging in physical activity while they share feelings is often one of the easiest ways for kids to express themselves.

While they are trying to process their loss, reviewing the stages of grief with your kids is essential. This can help them to understand that what they are feeling is normal. Remind them that we all go through these stages at our own pace and there is no right or wrong way to do it. The most common stages of grief are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Acceptance.

Your child may feel depressed, angry, confused or anxious; they now understand that people they love die, and this is terrifying. Bereavement is often a messy process for children. They may act out, putting their feelings into impulsive actions, or they may act in, becoming anxious or depressed, especially if grief triggers an acute awareness of other deaths.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with how to help, here are some quick tips that you can reference:

  • Acknowledge your child's presence, their importance, thoughts and feelings
  • Be patient and open-minded. Allow them to grieve in their own way
  • Be available - sit with them, listen, and answer their questions
  • Let them know that a range of emotions is normal
  • Validate their feelings and do not minimise them
  • Give them permission to put their grief and sadness on hold. Remind them that it is healthy to still experience happiness and move on with their life
  • Check in with the adults involved in their life - it takes a village to work through this
  • Continue to provide routine and structure - it helps them feel safe and secure. It also gives them a sense of control in a chaotic time
  • Continue to be a source of support. Even if children seem to be over their grief, they may still be dealing with feelings around the incident long after others have moved on.

~ Please always remember, it's okay if you don't have all the answers ~

Sara Lindburg has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.Ed. in Counselling. A 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counsellor, she combines 20-plus years' experience in the fitness and counselling fields and she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves on her Facebook page FitMom. Her inspiration for writing comes from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna.


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