Helping a child deal with death is one of the most difficult tasks a parent/caretaker may have to face. Parents/caretakers often feel distressed by the child’s pain and frequently have to face their own feelings of loss. Below are a few guidelines to help children deal with the loss of a loved one.
1. Help the Child Feel Safe
A child’s most vital need after losing a loved one is that of safety and survival. It is important that you tell them who will be taking care of them and how. As far as possible, be careful not to bring about major changes in the child’s life and try to keep their external circumstances as predictable as possible.
2. Talk to your Child about the Circumstances of the Death
Grieving children need clear and accurate information about the circumstances of the death, be it illness, trauma or an accident. When children are not given this information, they will imagine things that are likely to be worse than reality. This information may have to be repeated at different times. It helps to check with them that they understood what has been communicated. The child might need reassurance that they did not cause the death in any way.
3. Help your Child feel Safe to Express their Feelings
Grieving children express their feelings differently. Some children cry, others get angry or agitated, some ask many questions and still others have minimal emotional responses. Whatever the child’s emotional reaction to the loss, it is important to make him/her feel heard and understood. Try not to judge their expression of feelings, but instead help them to understand that their feelings are a normal reaction to the loss and that these feelings will change with time. Children are often told what to feel, but it is important for them to communicate their feelings for themselves, be it verbally or through images or gestures. Encourage the child to talk about their feelings when they feel ready, but do not force this interaction. It is also ok to cry in front of the child. It can demonstrate to them that the expression of feelings are normal. It is, however, very important to communicate to them that you are going to be ok and that they are not responsible for your feelings.
4. Help your Child to Remember the Deceased
Grief is not about forgetting the deceased, but finding new ways to remember them. Encourage the child to talk about their memories of the deceased and share your own memories with them. It can be useful to also share positive, humorous and hopeful memories, together with sad memories. You can help your child remember the deceased by creating a memory box. You can make or buy a box in which to put different objects related to the deceased, such as photos, letters, flowers or treasured possessions of the person who passed away.
5. Don’t be Afraid to Seek Assistance
Dealing with loss is difficult for all parties involved. Therapy can be incredibly beneficial to work through difficult feelings and to put things into perspective. Children benefit immensely from having a neutral space where painful feelings can be worked through. Please feel free to contact Meaningful Minds Psychologists if you require any assistance.
If you would like to speak to a professional you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org; call us on 081 759 4849 or visit our website - www.meaningfulminds.co.za
Elretha Bartlett is a counselling psychologist at Meaningful Minds Psychology Practice in Bedfordview. Find out more about her at