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~ Helping Children Cope with Loss ~

Children are impacted by loss very differently than adults. Their manifestations of grief can also be very different. Some things to consider and suggestions for helping a child overcome loss:

Children are concrete in their thinking.

To lessen confusion, avoid expressions such as “passed on” or “went to sleep.” Answer their questions about death simply and honestly. Only offer details that they can absorb. Don’t overload them with information.
Children are physical in their grief.
Watch their bodies, and understand and support their play and actions as their “language” of grief. Offer reassurance.
Children can be fearful about death and the future.
Give them a chance to talk about their fears and validate their feelings. Share happy memories about the person who died. Offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen.
Children need choices.
Whenever possible, offer choices in what they do or don’t do to memorialize the deceased and ways to express their feelings about the death. Help the child plant a tree or dedicate a place in memory of the person who died.
Children grieve as part of a family.
Children grieve the person and the “changed” behavior and environment of family and friends. Keep regular routines as much as possible.
Children are repetitive in their grief.
Respond patiently to their uncertainty and concerns. It can take a long time to recover from a loss. Expect their grief to revisit in cycles throughout their childhood or adolescence. A strong reminder, such as the anniversary of a death, may reawaken grief. Make yourself available to talk.

National Mental Health Association. Helping Children Cope With Loss. 2001. Available at: Site.
Doka KJ, ed. Living with Grief: Children, Adolescents, and Loss. Washington D.C.: Hospice Foundation of America, 2000.

Helping a child cope with loss is perhaps one of the most important roles an adult can play.
In effect, you are helping that child develop skills that can last a lifetime.

Michael Faenza, President
National Mental Health Association
See the Emergency 911 Page for links to immediate resources
if you are feeling helpless, hopeless, overwhelmingly depressed, or suicidal.

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Last update Sept. 11, 2002