How to Help a Grieving Child

A grieving child needs to be free to express her feelings and to be sad. If family members are unwilling to mourn or unable to talk about feelings the child may think it is unacceptable to grieve.
Sometimes adults want to shield children from sorrow and so they pretend that everything is fine. This can confuse a child and hinder the grieving process. It is best to be honest and open. Share why you are sad and let the child know that it is okay to be sad too.

How Children Grieve

A child may not respond initially to the news of a loved one’s death. Parents may be concerned that she acts as if nothing has happened. It is difficult for a child to grasp the long-term consequences and meaning of death.
Children are more likely to feel a sense of loss that comes and goes. Sadness and an intense longing for the person are usually triggered by a sensory experience, such as a smell, a photograph or a song.
As a child grows up she will have to rework her understanding and acceptance of the death into her mind again and again as she learns new things about the world around her. Years after the death she may ask questions about it again, to understand it better.

Death and a Child’s Worldview

It is so important to take time to talk to a grieving child about how he is feeling. Spend time answering questions he may have about death and why people are sad.
A child may have crazy ideas about what has happened and not having anybody to talk to can cause a lot of hurt and confusion. Since his worldview is centered on himself, it is not uncommon for a child to think that he is somehow responsible for the death of a loved one.
He may think that something he said or did caused the death.
Seeing friends and family upset, but not talking about it to him, might cause him to think he has done something wrong.
Children have many misconceptions about what causes death. For example if somebody dies in bed at night, a child may be afraid to sleep or if a loved one dies in the hospital he may think going to the hospital is dangerous. Children need open communication with caring adults and a chance to grieve with the rest of the family.

Sympathy Gift Ideas for Children

Gifts that encourage the child to express grief promote healing. It is easy to include art supplies in a care package. If you can be available to do an activity and visit with a child, this can really provide a good opportunity for him to ask questions or share how he feels.

  • Coloring books
  • Markers
  • Paints
  • Modeling clay
  • Stuffed animals
  • Journals, sketch pads or diaries
  • Gift certificates for art classes
  • Money for music lessons or sports

Fun Activities to Help a Grieving Child

Art projects like painting or playing with modeling clay can provide a good creative outlet for children. If you can spend time coloring with a child and talking about whatever is on his mind, you are doing a great job helping him through the grieving process.
Reminiscing by looking at photos and talking about favorite memories can help a child come to terms with a loss. Children may appreciate being given pictures or treasured belongings to remember a loved one by. For example, a boy might enjoy inheriting grandpa’s stamp collection or a favorite hat.
Role playing or make-believe can a help a child make sense of a loss. A doll house is a great way to let a child project her feelings onto characters and to reenact real-life scenarios she is trying to understand.
Listening and dancing to music can really help younger children who communicate through movement and active play. You can help them by giving words to their movements. For example, “you are jumping up and down, you are really excited.” Give her a chance to express herself by moving to music or picking a CD to listen to. Provide children with a variety of good music to choose from. They may find a particular song that is important to them or that reminds them of their loved one.

How to Provide the Right Answers For a Grieving Child

A child needs concrete answers to her questions. It is better to use the terms death and died, instead of euphemisms like, “went to sleep.” It may take awhile for a child to make sense of what has happened.
You can help her by giving clear answers.
Searching for answers is part of healing. This helps a grieving child understand what has happened and to come to terms with the loss. Since children tend to use repetition to understand concepts. You will need to patiently answer the same questions over and over again.

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