Helping Our Grieving Children & Teens

While the majority of children are resilient when coping with trauma and grief, some helpful guidelines include the following:

  • Children need honest information, given in developmentally appropriate language.
  • A child is never too young to participate in death related rituals.
  • Children are incredibly perceptive and take behavioral cues from adults around them.
  • Although seeing parents/caregivers cry may be scary for children, they need to know that it is healthy to express feelings.
  • Children think differently than adults. Their behaviors may be misinterpreted and adults may think that they are not grieving.
  • Children grow in spurts and grieve in spurts.
  • Children often re-grieve as they reach developmental milestones.
  • Grieving children and teens often try to protect their parents/caregivers and friends by keeping their painful feelings to themselves, which can be harmful.
  • Maintaining memories for bereaved children and incorporating rituals is crucial for healthy integration.
  • Those who are grieving are the experts of their own grief. Ask them what they need!

And here are some things to NOT do….

  • Use euphemisms for death, such as “went to sleep” or “lost”.
  • Avoid mentioning the person who died.
  • Pretend that nothing has happened.
  • Try to explain away feelings.
  • Try to minimize the loss with statements that indicate that it’s not as bad as it seems.
  • Don’t say…
    • Time heals everything
    • She/he’s happy now
    • I know exactly how you feel
    • You need to… (move on, get over it, get involved in other things)Be strong for….

How can you help?

  • Answer honestly any questions the child may have
  • Encourage the child to express their feelings
  • Recognize that helping children cope with grief is an ongoing process, not a unique event that occurs at one specific point in time.
  • Children who are bereaved need open support, love and encouragement
  • Children are teachers too. Adults need to learn from the child the unique meaning that a loss has to that particular child