Discussing Grief With Children


One of the most difficult tasks following the death of a loved one is discussing and explaining the death with other children in the family. This task is even more distressing when the parents are in the midst of their own grief. Since many adults have problems dealing with death, they assume that children also cannot cope with it. Parents may try to protect other children by leaving them out of the discussions and rituals associated with the death. Thus, children may feel anxious, bewildered, and alone. The children may be left on their own to seek answers to their questions at a time when they most need the help and assurance of those around them.

All children will be affected in some way by a death in the family. Above all, children who are too young for explanations need love from the significant people in their lives to maintain their own security. Young children may not verbalize their feelings about a death in a family and may hold back their feelings. In reality they may be so overwhelmed that they may appear to be unaffected. It is common for them to express their feelings through behavior and play. Regardless of this ability or inability to express themselves, children do grieve, often very deeply.

Experts have determined that those in grief pass through four major emotions: Fear, Anger, Guilt and Sadness. It should be remembered that everyone who is touched by a death experiences these emotions to some degree – grandparents, friends, physicians, nurses and children. Each adult and child´s reaction to death is individual in nature. Some common reactions are outlined in the adjacent column.

It is important to remember that all of the reactions outlined are normal expressions of grief in children. In the grieving process, time is an important factor. Experts have said that six months after a significant death in a child´s life, normal routine should be resuming. If the child´s reaction seems to be prolonged, seeking professional advice of those who are familiar with the child (e.g., teachers, pediatricians, clergy) may be helpful.

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