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coping with grief

​How to Help Kids and Teens Cope with Grief and Loss

Perhaps one of the hardest things a parent ever has to go through is helping their child cope with the death of a loved one. I think part of the reason we find it difficult to explain death to our kids is that we want to shield them from the harsh realities of life as much as possible.

Death isn’t something we normally talk about and when it comes to kids, we don’t know whether to hide or embrace the grief and sense of loss it brings. We don’t know what to say or how to explain it to them and sometimes we are too caught up in our own grief to realize that children also grieve.

Children and Grief

Unlike adults who go through the typical stages of grief, kids tend to exhibit loss very differently.

Kids and young adults are still learning to manage their emotions and they lack the experience and coping skills of adults. Their reactions to death vary widely and are mostly influenced by factors such as personality, age, their developmental stage, previous experience with loss or death etc.

Some children become withdrawn and unresponsive, some become angry and act out while others might become anxious or fretful. Many others don’t appear to react to the loss only for it to show up in other ways. So it’s erroneous to assume that a kid isn’t grieving just because they show no signs of it.

How to Help Your Child Cope with Loss

The following are some tips for helping your child cope with loss:

Be direct and honest

When explaining death to your child, be as direct and honest as possible. There are ways to tailor your conversation to their developmental level so you could avoid further confusion.

Unless your kids are in their teens, avoid using phrases like “moved on” or “passed away” as these might confuse them. Instead, use real words such as “died” and be as clear as possible. You might include the fact that it’s a normal part of life and the person is never coming back. You can use age-appropriate books, videos or stories to help pass the message.

Encourage questions

Encourage your kids to ask as many questions as they’d like and give them honest answers when they do.

Reassure them that it’s not their fault or has nothing to do with them

Younger kids might harbor guilt thinking that perhaps they were “bad” or somehow responsible for their loved one’s death so make sure they understand that they’re not to blame in any way.

Encourage your child to express his or her feelings

coping with grief loss

Encourage your child to express their feelings and assure them that it’s normal to feel angry, sad, helpless, etc. while grieving. While it can be tempting to hide your emotions and put up a strong front, it’s better to let your kids see your grief, as long as you don’t overwhelm them. This way, they’ll see that whatever they’re going through is normal.

Help reduce anxiety about the future

Kids who’ve lost a parent often end up worrying about the future and might be anxious that you too might die. Allay their worries as best as you can and offer reassurance that they’ll be well cared for should anything happen.

Find someone to confide in

Due to their longing for independence, teens might find it hard to accept help or show emotions after bereavement. If you find it hard to communicate with your teen, find someone outside the family that they can confide in e.g. a teacher or counselor.

Bereaved children and teenagers require ongoing reassurance, attention, and support and sometimes you can’t do it all by yourself. In such situations, it’s ok to look for help from your friends and extended family. Also, don’t hesitate to contact a child psychologist or other mental health professional if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior in the wake of tragedy and loss

Tyler Jacobson

Tyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and writer, with experience as a content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. Tyler has offered honest advice and humor to struggling parents and teens. Tyler has researched and written on education problems, disorders, the world of social media, addiction, and pressing issues with raising a teen today. Follow Tyler on:
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  • This is really good info! Kids have their own ways of dealing with trauma, whether it’s death or a major accidents, whatever the reason.
    My kids at the age of,2.5 &3.5 almost lost me! I had liver failure due to Wilson’s Disease… My first 6months of recovery they had to live somewhere else. My daughter was the 2.5 yr old, and she not only cried and clung to me each visit, but she also started acting like a baby again, she wanted diapers, baby bottles, etc… agian. Meanwhile my son internalized all of his feelings, he became completely withdrawn.
    It was the worst heartbreak of all to watch my kids go through it all… I actually had a family counselor help and art therapy.

  • It’s definitely not that easy especially when you’re going through the same thing. I think these are wonderful ways to help a child cope with grief. It’s important that we support and guide them as much as we can.

  • Having someone for kids to confide in for those moments is so important. My daughter has had to face death in one way or another for far too often. I think being open is one of the best of ways of handling situations.

  • That’s great advice to not use phrases like “passed away.” With kids, you have to be clear. I think the most important thing is encouraging them to be open and giving them a safe space to do it.

  • It must be so hard for little kids, especially why they don’t understand what is really happening. There are some great tips here.

  • So often people will kind of ignore how kids are feeling. Their is this misconception that because they are young, they’ll get over things. But children don’t understand as much as adults do about loss and their feelings need to be taken into account even more because of that. Great tips for us – thanks.

  • That’s a hard one to cope with although it is part of life unfortunately. Luckily we haven’t had any deaths in a while. The last one was when our children were young enough not to understand what had happened. Great post as it does help for the future.

  • Unfortunately, loss and grief are part of our lives. Well, I’d love to spare this to kids at least for the for the first years of their lives, but as far as I see… they can cope with sorrow better than we do, don’t you think so?

  • We recently loss a close family member and it was unexpected for us all. My kids 8 and 11 were thrown into it all and everything happened so fast. This article touches upon so many important points. I especially liked the point of age appropriateness and directness. They are seeking answers and understanding too! Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this article.

  • Its really hard when a child had to face such a loss. I totally agree that be open and let the child ask questions and just be there to provide support and reassurance thats ok to ferl sad and things will get better.

  • these are great tips- especially about being anxious for the future since its hard for them to understand. ill be sharing this with a friend. thanks for this!

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