Children and teens have their unique way of grieving. Loss tends to affect children in different ways than from adults. Depending on their age, experiences, and maturity levels, all children will have a different grief experience from the next.
Oftentimes, a child’s grief is overlooked or overshadowed by adults who may be grieving the same loss as in the case of a sibling or a grandparent that has died.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Help a Grieving Child With the Loss of a Loved One, Parent, or Sibling
- How to Help a Grieving Child After the Loss of a Pet
- How to Help a Grieving Child At School or in the Classroom
There are many ways to help a child or teen who’s suffered the death of a loved one or other significant setback in life. Getting a child to deal with grief successfully may be complicated as most children are aware of death but do not understand it.
When a child experiences grief, it can often be a confusing process. The following ways can guide you in helping a child or teen build healthy coping habits when dealing with grief.
How to Help a Grieving Child With the Loss of a Loved One, Parent, or Sibling
Knowing how to help a grieving child get through their grief can be challenging for many people. Most adults didn't learn what it means to grieve as children. They become aware of the intensity of grief as adults watching other family members and adults struggle through theirs.
Unfortunately, the topic of death remains a somewhat taboo one in most western households and talking about grief, death, and dying is not acceptable in most social settings. With the tips found below, you'll be able to help a grieving child better cope with any loss.
1. Acknowledge their grief
A child who's grieving may not give off traditional grieving responses or likewise even let on that they don't understand. You shouldn't wait for a child or teenager to come to you to tell you that they're suffering through the pain and loss of their loved one. You can assume that a child's grieving their loss in a profound and significant way.
In addition to regular grief-related loss, losing a parent as a child comes with its own set of difficulties in learning to cope with grief. Pay special attention to a child who's recently suffered the death of a parent, sibling, relative, or close friend.
2. Give reassurance
Many children and teens seek reassurance, love, and support from their families that everything will be okay. Lend support to a child by explaining to them the grief process and what to expect. Let them know that it’s okay to feel the way they do and that there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve.
Children of any age may not know what to expect after the death of a parent, sibling, or other loved one. Your guidance will help them understand the process so that they can more confidently deal with their grief.
3. Offer love and support
A child who has lost a parent or sibling may suffer from feelings of guilt, shame, and rejection. Let them know that what they’re experiencing are all normal parts of grief and that, in time, their pain will begin to ease.
You may want to give them one of many available gifts for children who lost a parent ranging from books to read and learn about death to unique memorial jewelry they can wear every day. Teaching them about the bereavement process is another way of offering a child love and support.
4. Encourage open conversation
A loved one’s death can create a lot of unease and confusion in a child or teen's mind. They may have lots of questions but not know who to ask or turn to for support, especially if their parents are also suffering from a child's loss.
A child may find it necessary to withdraw in order to allow their parents the opportunity to grieve and mourn their losses. Whenever possible, encourage children to open up about their grief responses and experiences. Let them know that it's okay to talk about death and what they are feeling.
5. Establish new traditions
After a significant loss within a family, picking up the pieces and moving forward with life can be challenging. Parents and children alike may suffer from profound grief and sadness over their loss. Getting through their grief may seem next to impossible, let alone healing from it.
To help a child suffering from loss, establishing new traditions that incorporate some of what they’re familiar with can help them honor the life of their loved one who died.
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How to Help a Grieving Child After the Loss of a Pet
The loss of a pet to a child can feel the same as suffering any other type of loss or a family member’s death. They may not know how to differentiate between the two, or they may feel a close bond and attachment to their pet who has died.
In either case, it’s essential to validate and honor their loss in a way that makes them feel loved and supported. Here are some ways you can help a child who’s mourning the death of their pet.
6. Create grief rituals
Rituals can be any grief and loss activities that help you get through the pain and suffering of losing a loved one or beloved pet. Young children, especially, may have trouble coping with the death of their pet. For many, this is one of the first experiences with a significant loss. A potential grief ritual can include:
- Holding a memorial in their pet’s honor
- Burying their pet in the backyard
- Reciting a particular poem about love and loss
Some activities that may help a child better cope with grief require thought and hands-on labor, such as putting together a scrapbook or painting a memorial stone for their pet.
7. Share some memories
A child might benefit from sharing stories and favorite memories of their pet. Anyone who has experienced a pet's loss may feel better talking about their pet and looking back at pictures of all the good times they had with them. Seeing how much love and attention they gave their pet when alive may ease some of the pain and sorrow that they're experiencing.
8. Be patient
Have patience when helping a child cope after the loss of a pet. For a young child, their pet’s death may represent their first experience with loss. They may not understand what they’re feeling or going through. For example, older children may need to talk about their pets incessantly. Every time they share with others details of their pet, it helps them cope with their loss a little each time.
Give them all the time they need to work through their grief. They’ll have less and less of a need to talk about their pet so much in time. On the other hand, some children may turn around and ask for a new pet the very next day following their loss. Both of these ways of dealing with loss are perfectly normal.
How to Help a Grieving Child At School or in the Classroom
Tragedies on campus or in the classroom can and have happened, leaving many children in fear of what’ll happen next each time they leave for school. The fear and anxiety they feel is a natural response to any mass tragedy on the news.
Helping a child grieve when disaster strikes at school or in the classroom can include setting them up in counseling or therapy provided by their school or other grief support services in the community.
9. Show them how to respond
Teaching a child what to say when someone dies and what it means to grieve can help them become more comfortable with the grieving process. They’ll feel more comfortable talking to others about their loss or sharing in their own grief-related experiences. A child needs to know that it’s okay to talk about death.
Children also need to learn how to respond to others who’ve suffered a significant loss in their lives. These skills carry forward beyond the immediate need to know what to do or say to a friend or classmate suffering through grief. They are life skills that will help them as they mature into young adults.
10. Help them set up a memorial service
Grief strikes in many ways and when least expected. A child who may otherwise be emotionally strong and resilient to change may all of a sudden feel helpless and overwhelmed with the loss of a friend or classmate.
They may not know healthy ways of expressing their grief or properly offering heartfelt and meaningful words of condolences. You can guide them in setting up either an online or in-person memorial service in honor of the student whose life was cut short.
Memorials services are one way of bringing together many people facing the same loss. Consider getting the deceased child's parents' approval and blessing before moving forward with the service's planning and setting up. Also, be mindful not to plan it for a day that the parents had reserved for their memorial or funeral service in honor of their child.
11. Get them counseling
School counselors are often trained in bereavement counseling to help children facing loss either at home or school. This service is offered for free to any of the student body. You’ll need to call the school to explain the type of loss your child’s suffering.
School teachers and other staff may not always be able to pick up when a child is suffering internally. Although they may notice behavioral changes happening, they may not understand where these changes stem from. It’s vital to let school staff know what your child is undergoing at home or school so that they can offer them the proper help and support.
Helping a Child Grieve a Loss
Not all children will tell you that they're suffering after experiencing a significant loss. Many children are adept at hiding their feelings and emotions. For several reasons, a child may not want you to know what's going on within themselves.
You may endlessly try to figure it out, but unless you ask them directly and listen to what they're saying, you may never be able to help them successfully grieve through their loss.