Dealing with grief is a skill we all must learn at some point in our lives. Whether it’s the death of a friend, a family member, or helping a friend through a death, understanding how to deal with grief for the first time can be a hard journey to walk. Children who go through grief-inducing experiences, particularly those who do so at a young age, need guidance to help navigate the emotions they may be feeling for the first time. You don’t have to be a professional counselor to help children through grief, so here are some tips to help you help them.
Death is Normal- Try to be proactive and teach children about death before they experience the death of a loved one. Point to examples of death in nature, like dying plants or animals, as less emotional examples of death. This allows children to grasp the concept of death without the associated grief. Sometimes parents avoid talking about death with their children in an effort to shield them from harsh realities, but children need to understand death is a normal part of life.
Be Ready for Questions- It’s not uncommon for children to have a lot of questions about death when they hear about it for the first time, so be ready. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to say so. Let them know you’re struggling with this too.
Honesty- Sometimes analogies and metaphors are helpful, but this might not be the best time for such tools. Don’t be afraid to be straightforward about death. Using terms like, “they went to sleep” might confuse children about what death is and how it works.
Grieve with Them- Don’t feel the need to grieve behind closed doors. Children need to see how people grieve and what’s okay to do in these times. It’s okay for your kids to see you cry and be emotional. This lets them know it’s okay to feel and experience the emotions that are flooding in.
Grieving with children, like grieving with anyone, is a learning process. Don’t feel pressure to get it right the first time or be perfect. The more important thing to do is let them know you’re here for them. Not every child will grieve the same way. Be adaptive and flexible, so you can meet their needs.