5.6.3 Helping Children who grieve
Children grieve when someone loved dies – even though they may not seem old enough to understand. They need to be prepared for and included in the process. By being honest, open, and loving, adults can help children grieve in a healthy way. Some suggestions that may be of assistance:
- Tell your child what is happening in simple honest and clear language that they can understand. Give only the information requested. Use factual words like “die” rather than “gone away” or “asleep”.
- Hold them. Let them cry. Don’t be afraid to cry with them. Acknowledge the reality that grief hurts.
- With warm sensitivity, listen to the child – to their feelings as well as their words. Let them know that it is OK to be sad or angry – that all their feelings are normal. Assure them that nothing they thought, did or said caused the death. Don’t hide or deny feelings.
- Ask the child if they have any questions. They may need to ask the same questions over and over. If you don’t have all the answers, don’t pretend you do. They need your listening presence, more than answers.
- Realize that grief causes difficulty in concentration. Schoolwork may be affected.
- Maintain a daily routine if possible.
- Encourage your child to decide what he or she needs and would like to do – e.g. visit the dying loved one. Prepare the children for what they will see, hear, smell and do.
- Value and share cherished memories. Honour your loved one through special rituals.
- Explore religious and spiritual beliefs. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers – just do your best to explain your beliefs in words children can understand.
- Talk about whether the child wishes to attend the funeral or not. Explain that the funeral is a time to honour and remember the life of the person who died. Consider the child’s age, understanding of death and closeness to the deceased.
- Find age appropriate ways for children to participate in the funeral: sharing a memory, reading a poem, or drawing a picture (it could be copied and used for the service folder).
Grief is a natural expression of love for someone who has died. How the grief is expressed will vary from child to child. You know your child best and need to do what is best for him or her.
There are books on grief for your child to read or for you to read with your child. A list of resources is included in this package. Check with your local bookstore or public library.
- Saying Goodbye with Love, Sheila Martin, Crossroad Publishing 1999.
- Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies, Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
- funeralplan.com/grief support
Primary authors Dr. Lenna Morgan, Windsor Regional Hospital, Windsor and Ms. Leslie Price, Windsor Regional Hospital, Windsor. Reviewed by the POGO Satellite Manual Palliative Care Working Group, 2016.