How to Help Children Cope with Death

How to Help Children Cope with Death – Understand how children grieve
Death is an important part of life. Since adults play a significant role in helping children cope with death, it is helpful to understand how children grieve the loss of a loved one.

Children often have trouble expressing their emotions, but be assured that grief can have a profound impact on their lives. You may see the impact change them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Walk along with them on this journey and assure them of your love and support.

How to help children cope with death is challenging since children handle grief differently than adults. Often, children grieve intermittently and take breaks from their grieving. As adults, our grief can be all-encompassing and we can sustain high emotion for long periods of time. If a child is having fun and expressing joy, adults should not mistakenly believe that the child has finished grieving.

As children grow, teach them that death is an aspect of life. Don’t avoid the topic, even though it is hard. Death is all around us, so look for teachable moments—a wilting flower, the change from summer to autumn, or even the death of a family pet. Children are capable of accepting death, especially when adults are open and honest about it.

How to Help Children Cope with Death - Tips
Here are some tips for how to help children cope with death.1 Remember that every situation and every child is unique and these are general principles.

  • Timing. Avoid waiting too long to tell your children about the death of someone they know. You want them to hear it from you.

  • Honesty. In an age-appropriate manner, tell your children what happened. Don’t be afraid of using the word “died.” Avoid sugar-coated phrases like, “grandpa has gone to sleep.” Phrases like this create confusion and misconceptions about death. Remember that children are very literal thinkers. Allow children to ask questions and be willing to answer them simply. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and tell them you don’t know.

  • Recognize fear. If your children express fear about seeing the body or going to the funeral, comfort and reassure them. Offer empathy and emotional support.

  • Listen. Statements like “I know you are hurting” show you are listening and understand their emotions.

  • Let your children see you grieve. Allow your children to see your grief, your tears, and emotional pain. As the children realize this is a permanent loss, they may express their grief in different ways—tantrums, being clingy, disobedience, etc. Be patient as they learn what grief is and how to express it in healthy ways.

  • Stay consistent. Pay close attention to their physical needs, rest, and nutrition. They need structure (wake-up times, bed time, meals, school). Spend one-on-one time with each child.

  • Pray. Remember to pray for your children to be comforted. Pray with them and in front of them.

  • Remember the loved one. If your children are creative, consider making a photo book and writing special memories of the loved one. Some children may enjoy planting a tree as a memorial. Others will want to carry a special photo or memento with them.

  • Cherish the moments. Talk about the person who died and share funny stories. Reminisce together.

How to Help Children Cope with Death – The Role of Faith
Many grief experts recognize the importance of faith in helping children cope with death. A basic understanding of Christianity teaches that our physical lives are temporary and our souls live on. The Bible teaches that the souls/spirits of believers in Jesus are taken to heaven.

The Bible says, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” For a believer in Jesus, including children who believe, there is great comfort in knowing a loved one is in heaven.

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Footnotes:
1 Tips adapted from ideas shared from Focus on the Family.

Recommended resources on how to help children cope with death: Grief Share offers Bible studies and grief support groups.
Helping Your Child Deal with Accidents or Tragedies
Tear Soup is a book that will validate your grief experience, and you can share it with your children too.


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