Helping Children After the Death of a Loved One
When Informing a child of Death...
- Tell the child the truth about what happened
- Keep it simple. Use the word died and not phrases like "we lost her" or "grandma went to heaven".
If the child asks to view the body, and if the body is suitable for viewing, allow the child to do so. Let the child participate in the family sorrow and grieving rituals, including the funeral.
- Reassure the child that he/she will be taken care of, loved, and cherished as before. The greatest fear of the bereaved child is that of being abandoned and deserted.
- Touch, hold, and hug the child. Non-verbal communication is the most powerful and direct way of telling the child you care.
- Explain to the child that the loved one did not intend to die, nor did the loved one want to die. The child needs to be assured that the deceased did not intentionally desert the child. Explain that it was not the deceased child’s fault that the loved one died. Young children often believe they possess magic power, and through the power of thought the child actually brought about their loved one’s death. The child may need help to relieve this burden of guilt.
- Encourage the child to express feelings and to ask questions about anything that is on his or her mind. Do this on many occasions.
- Answer the child’s questions simply, directly, and honestly. Children are quick to sense deceptions and may come to distrust adults.
- Be tolerant. It is normal for a child confronting a major crisis to regress to levels below his or her present level of maturity.
- It is OK to let children see your tears and cry with them in a shared experience.Give the child choices about what to do. Some children may want to return to school as soon as possible. Familiar routines are comforting.
Documents for Helping Teens & Children
Note: These documents are also available for viewing and printing on the Print PDFs page.
Communicating with Children about Disasters
What To Do When Death Enters the Life of a Child - Personal Rituals of Healing
What To Do When Death Enters the Life of a Child - Clichés To Be Avoided
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
SIDS Parents Need Reassurance
Helping Children Grieve
How To Cope After Tragedy Strikes-Tips for Teens
Helping Teenagers Cope After a Traumatic Event