8 Tips for Helping Your Child Cope with Grief and Loss
Most little children are familiar with the idea of death, even if they don’t fully comprehend what it means. It shows up in their movies and TV shows. They may even have friends who’ve lost a pet or loved one. Processing grief and loss can be an overwhelming experience for many children. As a caregiver, you can’t completely remove their heartache, but you can help them feel more secure. By enabling them to talk about their emotions, you can also help them develop healthy coping skills that will benefit them down the road.
Understand that children process grief differently.
Every child experiences their own unique reaction when they learn that a loved one has died. Some children use play as a coping mechanism to keep from being overwhelmed. They may feel depressed, angry, guilty, or anxious. It is also normal for children to move in and out of grief reactions, at times feeling very upset and at other times playing as if nothing has happened. Younger children may experience some regression, such as bed-wetting or baby talk. These are all normal responses. Stay with your child to offer hugs or words of comfort. Answer their questions. Or simply sit quietly together for a few minutes. It's alright for your child to see you cry or feel sad.
Encourage children to express their feelings.
Give your child a creative outlet to express feelings. There are a number of good children’s books about death. Reading one together may be a way to get the conversation started. Drawing is another safe emotional outlet for some children. You can also try telling stories, doing crafts, listening to music, playing games, or looking at a photo album together.
Coping with grief and loss can be overwhelming, and finding the right words to talk to our children about it can feel impossible. Slumberkins Ivory Sprite Kin helps provide comfort and opens the door to healthy conversations about loss. Sprite can help you start these conversations with children while encouraging them to remember that those who are no longer by Sprite Kin's side continue to live within our hearts.
It can be difficult to ascertain how much a child really understands about death. Try not to overshare more information than necessary. Young children may not comprehend the permanence of death and may believe their loved one will return at some point. Older children may have a clearer picture but still need answers. Answer your child’s questions simply and honestly. If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say so. Being there for your child is what is more important.
Don’t beat around the bush.
Children are very literal beings. Telling them a loved one “went to sleep” can be terrifying for them at bedtime. Give your child the opportunity to develop healthy ways of handling grief in the future by being direct with your information.
Go to the memorial service.
When it comes to kids attending funerals, there’s really no right or wrong thing to do. Instead, it’s very context-dependent. That said, funerals can help provide closure for some children. Not all children are ready for the experience though, so be sure to prepare yours for the experience if they want to go. Explain that they are somber occasions and that they’ll see people crying. If there will be an open casket, prepare them for that as well. If you decide not to attend the funeral, consider planting a tree or doing a balloon release together to provide your child with a sense of closure.
Talk about an afterlife.
Share your family's beliefs about what happens to a person's soul or spirit after death. Even if your family isn’t especially religious, you can still soothe your child with the idea that their loved one will continue to exist in the hearts and minds of the people that cared about them.
Take care of yourself.
Exercise, eat nutritiously, be consistent with your regular routines, and seek support from others. This can be a challenge when you are grieving yourself, but self-care is crucial. Grieving children function better when they have a healthy grown-up who can provide them with help and empathy.
Children thrive on routine. Try to keep your child’s schedule as close to normal as possible in the wake of loss. Reach out to friends and relatives for support if you need some time to be alone. While it’s necessary to take time to mourn the loss of a loved one, it’s also important to help your child learn that life goes on.
Handling Common Loss Situations.
The loss of a pet is many children’s first experience with the death of a loved one. The ties that bind children and animals run deep, and the loss of a family pet can feel intense. Don’t underestimate its significance or attempt to instantly substitute a new animal in its place. Give your child the time and space they need to fully process the loss.
A grandparent’s death is another common experience for children, causing many to wonder if their own parent will die next. Reassure your child that they are loved and will always be cared for.
In the case of a death in the child’s immediate family, like a parent or sibling, it’s a good idea to seek out therapy from a mental health professional. This provides the child with another outlet for expressing their feelings, especially if they don’t feel comfortable talking with other grieving family members.
Sometimes the hard parts are a little easier with a soft fuzzy friend to snuggle. Take a look at our collection of cuddly plush toys.
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