When a child experiences the death of someone close to them, they may feel overwhelmed with ​feelings of sadness, despair and confusion.

It is important for adults to be patient with children who are experiencing grief.

If you suspect that your child might be dealing with these feelings, there are many ways in which you can help your child through this difficult time.

Children Grieve Differently Than Adults

Age and maturity level play important roles in how children understand death and how they express their feelings of grief. The following conditions may affect the intensity, duration and direction of a child’s grief:

  • The quality of his or her relationship with the deceased
  • The amount of time the child spent with the deceased and the experiences they shared
  • The nature of the death—was it sudden, anticipated or violent
  • The behavior of surrounding adults—are they supportive and open or secretive
  • The child’s involvement in family conversations and activities
  • The child’s contact and relationship with siblings and peers
  • The family’s cultural, ethnic and religious heritage

The Behavior of Grieving Children

Children usually express their emotions through their behavior. Some will grieve intensely for a period of time and then act as though nothing has occurred. Others become overwhelmed by intense emotions, including longing for the loved one, anger, sadness, loneliness or helplessness. Some withdraw from friends and family or lose interest in activities they once found enjoyable. Following the death of a loved one, a child can also experience sleeplessness or nightmares.

You play an important role throughout a child’s grief journey. In addition to supporting the child, encourage him or her to express himself or herself in healthy ways. Though most children recover from the acute phase of grief because of strong support and patience, understand that a child will grieve the loss for the rest of his or her life.

Ways to Help a Grieving Child

  • Keep routines and schedules consistent.
  • Answer questions honestly and directly, using clear, age-appropriate language.
  • Provide unconditional love, affection and encouragement.
  • Never force a child to attend a funeral service. After explaining what will take place, allow the child to decide if he or she wants to attend.
  • Maintain contact with the child’s teachers, coaches and ministers.
  • Encourage questions.
  • Work with a competent counselor.
  • Enroll the child in a camp or support group for grieving children.
  • Let the child know that his or her emotions are normal

Helping Your Child Heal is Essential

The death of a loved one can be an incredibly traumatic experience for children. While they may not understand the concept of death, grieving children will exhibit different types of behaviors that you should know about in order to provide appropriate support and comfort.

One way to help is by keeping a consistent routine with your child, which includes maintaining their usual schedule, eating meals at regular times each day, making sure homework gets done on time or enlisting the help of mental health professionals who specialize in child psychology. Giving them unconditional love and support are also essential during this difficult process.

— Adapted from an article by Nancy E. Crump, M.S., Certified Grief Counselor

The Neptune Society of Northern California has provided a simple and affordable option for more than 125,000 Californians who prefer cremation as the dignified and ecologically responsible alternative to traditional final arrangements. Contact us online or browse our locations to contact a representative.

Category: Grief Support.