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How to Help Kids Who Are Grieving

August 1, 2018

Losing a loved one can be painful for anyone, but it is especially difficult for children and teens. While it may be tough to figure out the best ways to comfort an adult who has lost a loved one, it is even more challenging to help a child through grief, because children process grief differently at different stages of development. Your willingness to listen to their concerns; answer their questions as truthfully as you can; and be present with their thoughts and feelings, creates a foundation of safety, trust, and support.

Children making memory boxes at Norwell VNA and Hospice workshop.

If you know a child or teen who has experienced a death, you might be wondering how you can help. Keep in mind, children of different ages often have false ideas of what death means. Preschoolers may not understand that death is permanent, and older children may think they are somehow responsible for the death, or they may be worried that they will be the next to die. To help you navigate this difficult terrain, here are some resources to consult and a few basic principles to keep in mind.

  • NAGC: The National Alliance for Grieving Children is a rich resource with many helpful suggestions on their website including dozens of other sources of support listed by state. Many thoughtful links direct you to additional support programs and materials. Their guide “Ten Ways to Help Grieving Children” suggests that you take care of yourself; be honest with your child; listen to your child; acknowledge your child’s grief; share stories about your own life; give your child creative outlets; reassure your child; create rituals and new family traditions; and be patient. “10 Things Grieving Children Want You to Know” suggests the following: listen to the child and really hear them; follow their lead; validate their feelings; answer their questions; and seek out additional resources as needed.
  • The Dougy Center: The Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children & Families provides a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their families who are grieving a death to share their experiences through peer support groups, education, and training. They provide several helpful tip sheets for supporting grieving children and teens through a suicide; death of a close friend; illness of a family member; utilizing support groups and so much more. There is even a tip sheet on supporting grieving preschoolers. The Dougy Center article on “How To Help A Grieving Child” which was adapted from the book 35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child provides the following advice: answer the questions they ask – even the hard ones; give the child choices whenever possible; talk about and remember the person who died; respect differences in grieving styles; listen without judgment; hold a memorial service and allow for saying goodbye; it’s okay to take a break from grief.
  • Child Bereavement Programs: Local hospice groups and nonprofit organizations can provide the support that you and your child need, such as age-appropriate grief and bereavement support groups; creative outlets; and child-centered ways to memorialize their loved one. Home Health & Hospice Care in Merrimack, NH offers the “Good Grief” program for children ages 4 to 13 which helps school-age children process their loss through child-focused activities; and the “Teen Topics” monthly support group for bereaved high school students ages 14 to 18. Joanna’s Place is a South Shore grief and loss center for kids and their caregivers’ families that offers Circle Support Groups for children, five to thirteen years, and their parent or guardian to meet with other children who have lost a parent or a sibling. Families enjoy a pizza dinner and then children meet in developmentally appropriate groups to lend support to each other. At the same time, their parents meet in their own group and gain support for parenting while facing a loss. In conjunction with Child Grief Awareness Day in November, the Norwell VNA and Hospice runs memory box projects at the residence hospice. The children are invited to the hospice house where they decorate boxes to put in mementos, trinkets, letters, and whatever reminds them of their loved one. It deals with their grief in a creative way and gets them talking through the sadness.

Please use this link to Find Support in your area.


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