The grieving process is different for everyone, meaning that no two children will experience it the same. Unfortunately, this also means that there’s no one size fits all approach to helping a child in bereavement, but the steps below may help minimize trauma and anxiety.
1. Be honest and direct
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to communicating death to a young person. You don’t need to share specific details about a tragedy, but have a direct discussion explaining what death means, how the person they love has died, and that they’re not coming back.
When discussing death, use simple and age-appropriate language. Avoid euphemisms such as “they’re in a better place,” as these can be confusing for a child to understand. Explain that death is a part of life, and provide real world examples from nature, such as the changing seasons or the life cycle of a butterfly.
Be prepared to have this discussion more than once. As a child processes the information, it’s normal for them to have ongoing questions about death and their lost loved one.
2. Normalize the grieving process
Reduce anxiety by showing your child that grieving is normal when dealing with loss. Share your own experience with grief and discuss helpful ways to cope, such as looking through old photographs, retelling old memories and memorializing loved ones.
Explain how grief comes in waves rather than all at once, and that while it’s normal to feel sad some days, there’s no guilt in feeling happy or celebratory on others.
3. Encourage them to express themselves
Grief can be a very lonely process for both kids and adults. Encourage children to express themselves in a way that feels comfortable for them, whether through talking about it, writing their thoughts down and/or doing something creative. All of these activities will help kids meditate their thoughts and process their trauma.
Journaling can help create meaning out of profound loss. For younger children, drawing and coloring can achieve a similar effect. Ask specific questions around why they chose certain colors or what their drawings represent for more insight into a child’s grieving process.