What Parents Can Do
Suggestions for supporting children coping with an immediate
Each situation is different. Grief takes a lifetime …. But it doesn’t have to
be a bad thing forever…. It does get better and life will go on. Children will learn compassion and empathy and grow
and learn from the pain. However, there is no quick fix. There is no way around grief or to avoid grief. You have to go through
it. Denying, or burying feelings is harmful in the long term.
- Children need to hear the
truth – simply announce the truth of what has happened.
listen, listen – don’t feel you need to talk all the time
child is unique and each situation is different – pay attention to the child’s signals of how much information
they need and can understand and handle.
- Children need prompt
and accurate information and need to be allowed to ask questions.
them see your feelings of sadness but also your strength
don’t have to have all the answers
- Let them know you’ll
get through this together
- Let them know you will be there and
take care of them and are ABLE to take care of them. They need to know they are not alone
- Children are in as much pain as we are but often do not have the vocabulary to express their feelings. Help
them put words on their feelings. (“You sound mad.” “You seem sad.” “You feel overwhelmed.”
“You’re scared. ) Tell them how you are feeling.
grieve just as adults do however they frequently act out their grief rather than express it verbally.
- Keep it simple…. Listen, hugs, tears, truth
- Get the kids to talk – what are they feeling, thinking, needing. Again, you don’t need to do
all the talking
- If a child chooses NOT to talk we must respect
that – don’t force it but let them know you are available.
children play – play is an important vehicle to allow children to work through their concerns and emotions.
- Listen emphatically – you cannot fix it, make it better, or take their pain away. Validate
their pain and their feelings. Feelings are not good or bad or right or wrong. They just ARE. I.e. Don’t say “you
shouldn’t feel scared/sad/angry.” Say, “so, you’re scared.” Keep reflecting back what they feel.
(Read “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,” by Adele Faber)
- Anger is okay – being destructive or harmful to oneself or other is not. Be constructive
with anger… scream, yell, pound a pillow, ride your bike until you are exhausted
- Be present physically – spend time with your child. It’s okay for20them to see you cry but try
to also let them see your strength and ability to cope.
- Be as
tactile as possible – cuddling, hugging, touching an arm or shoulder… even for grown “children.”
- Acknowledge the tragedy. Explain and share the facts as best you can
– without the knowledge of the real facts, children create their own “facts” sometimes even more terrifying
than the real event.
- Children grieve differently and children
of different ages grieve differently.
- The length of time spent
in each “stage” of grief will vary and each child’s coping mechanisms will vary. Possible stages include
denial, shock, anger, and profound sadness.
- Kids grieve in SPURTS.
Their attention span is shorter… they can go from crying to playing to tantrums to being quiet again all within a short
period of time.
- Kids need routine. Keep your daily routine and
provide structure to their days.
- Pay attention to your own levels
of stress and shock and get support for yourself so you can be better able help your children
Sandra Fox outlines Four Tasks children must work through as they mourn:
Worden has defined mourning as the entire “process of separating from the person who has died or left and adapting to
the loss.” We must assist kids in their process for two reasons:
what caused the loss – what happened and why.
or experiencing the painful feelings associated with the loss
the value of the loss
- Going on with life by accepting and integrating
the loss psychologically and emotionally within themselves.
that children develop and master emotional skills as they process an initial loss and then face perhaps more profound ones
in the future, caregivers have three major functions:
are not mature enough psychologically to acquire adequate coping skills on their own and;
- They look to us, their caregivers, for help during each developmental stage of childhood (age 3 to young
- To foster
honest and open relationships with children
- To provide a safe
and secure space in which children can mourn (express their feelings)
be role models of healthy mourning