How to Help Your Child Cope With a Loss in the Family

The loss of a loved one is difficult for anyone to process. It can be especially trying for children to regulate their emotions and understand what death means. Here’s how to support your child as they cope with loss.

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Speak to Your Child Directly

When trying to help your child after a loss, the best approach is to be direct and use simple language. Use calm, clear tones and explain the situation. For example, after the passing of a grandparent, you might consider saying, “I have sad news to share. Grandpa died last night.” Be sure you give your child time to absorb the meaning of your words.

Comfort and Listen to Your Child
Allow your child to react to the news of their loved one dying. All children will process the information differently. Stay with your child whether they cry, ask questions or remain silent. Offer hugs and comfort them with your presence. If they have questions, do your best to answer them. You can also show your child how you feel — it’s OK if you cry, too.

Label Your Child’s Feelings
If your child is younger, they might not yet have the words to express their feelings about the situation. You can help them label their grief and process their emotions by sharing how you feel. Try saying things like, “When I heard grandpa died, it made me very sad. It looks like you’re feeling sad, too.”

When children become aware of their emotions, it helps them regulate what they’re feeling. They can also learn to identify feelings at an early age and seek help if they’re overwhelmed.

Prepare Your Child for Upcoming Events
The death of a loved one will likely impact your child’s life. If you anticipate it will disrupt their routine, explain those changes in advance to help them prepare. If grandpa used to pick your child up from school, explain that Uncle Ted will now be doing so instead. Maybe you need to stay with grandma for a few days until she can get settled after grandpa’s passing. Explain to your child that you’ll be away for a few days and your spouse will be watching them.

Explain What Will Happen During the Funeral
Review with your child what they can expect to happen during the funeral. There are several helpful children's books about grief and death to help further prepare your child for this event. If your loved one will be cremated and a memorial service will be held after, explain to your child how the ceremony will look.

Allowing your child to prepare for the funeral proceedings is especially helpful if your family will see your loved one’s body in an open casket. As long as they are prepared for these events, they can process them appropriately.

Give Your Child a Role
On the day of the funeral or memorial service, consider giving your child a small role like sharing a memory, making a collage, picking a song or displaying a photo. Letting your child participate in the service makes them feel like they’re playing an active part in remembering their loved one and celebrating their life. This can help your child cope with their grief and come to terms with the loss.

Allow Your Child Time to Process the Loss
It takes time for everyone to heal. Allow your child space to process their feelings and remember their loved one. Tell your child that while grandpa may no longer physically be with us, he’ll always live on in our memories. Continue to check in with your child during the weeks and months after the funeral. Ask them how they feel and reflect on happy memories of your loved one. Additionally, you should allow yourself to process the loss and adequately grieve your loved one. During this trying time, rely on your support system and don’t allow yourself to become isolated from friends and family. As you’re busy caring for your child, take time to also care for yourself.

Seek More Help if Needed
If you feel like your child is still struggling after the loss of your loved one, it’s OK. You’ve done so much to support them, and sometimes children need the help of a professional. Consider contacting a grief therapist if your loved one’s death was unexpected, deeply stressful, or they died in an accident and the child was a survivor. If your child is having long-term difficulty readjusting, they would likely benefit from a professional counsellor to help them process complex emotions and further adapt.

Support Your Child as They Process Loss

Children are emotionally resilient. Your guidance can help them learn to process the death of a loved one and come to terms with their feelings.

*Collaborative Post