Helping a Child Deal with Death

The death of a loved one, especially if it’s unexpected, is difficult for adults. But for children it’s even more upsetting. Mighty Mommy shares 8 tips to keep in mind when explaining death to your children, as well as ways to help them grieve at their own pace.

Cheryl Butler,
November 18, 2013
Episode #256

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Tip #4:  Allow Children a Safe Atmosphere to Grieve

Create a safe and special atmosphere where your kids can share their thoughts, fears, and questions about their loved one.  If you are able to talk freely in front of them (age appropriateness taken into consideration) this signals that your family is dealing with this together and that they are included.  This might include discussing funeral arrangements. 

For example, we asked our kids if they were comfortable being included in different parts of the service.  Our 17-year-old son did one of the readings and three of my younger kids brought up gifts at their grandfather’s church funeral.   Younger children may not completely understand the ceremonial rites of a funeral, but being involved in some of the planning helps establish a sense of comfort and that life does go on even though someone they love has died.

Tip #5:  Attending a Viewing of the Body (Wake)

Most cultures have a wake or viewing of the body.  This may seem very scary to kids who have never done anything like this, but it can also be a positive experience.  It provides an opportunity to say “good-bye” and helps children accept the reality of death.  It shouldn’t, however, be forced upon a child.  My kids had never been to a wake but had heard lots of stories from their friends who had gone to them before.  They were all very curious but also anxious as to what their grandfather would look like laying in a coffin.  Thankfully, when they attended the wake, they all had a few moments to spend alone with their grandfather and were all pleased at how peaceful he looked.

My 8-year-old daughter even wanted to touch her grandfather’s hand and even blew him a kiss at the end.  She’s still talking about how Grandpa’s hand was cold, but it provided a bit of closure for her.

Tip #6:  Make a “Good-Bye” Card or Other Tribute

Most of my children either wrote a letter or made a card for their grandfather that they placed in the coffin with him.  They took some quiet time alone after they had learned that he died and wrote out a few special memories of times they had spent with him.  I overheard them laughing and sharing stories with one another as they did this.  The older kids really helped their younger siblings by reminding them of some of the fun things Grandpa had done with them when they were little.  Not only did creating these tribute letters and cards help them feel a little better, but also their grandmother was very touched by their gesture and it made her feel comforted too.

Tip # 7:  Let Your Child Have a Special Keepsake

Having a special possession that belonged to a loved one who has passed on can be very comforting to a child.  My kids' grandfather loved to play baseball and football and had a great collection of sports memorabilia.  He also was a talented artist with many beautiful sketches and drawings hanging around his home.  Shortly after his death, their grandmother invited them to look through his sports scrapbooks and his portfolio of drawings.  They all picked one thing that they wanted to keep of his which they now treasure in a sacred place in their bedrooms.

Tip #8:  Be a Good Listener

Sometimes kids just want to talk and know that someone they love is listening.  At the time of a loved one’s death there are sure to be many overwhelming feelings and experiences as the funeral preparations are carried out and the grieving process takes place.  If your child is having a hard time accepting death. let him know that you are there for him and are willing to listen to his thoughts or answer his questions no matter what.

Has your family experienced the death of a loved one?  How did you help your child with the grieving process?  Share your thoughts in the comment section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommyor post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.  Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

Death is never easy for anyone so be sure and treat yourself and your children with extra TLC when a loved one dies. This way, you'll comfort one another through the grieving process.  Enjoy your wonderful families and until next time,  Happy Parenting!

Girls at grave image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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