As a parent, your first reaction to a death in the family may be to protect your child from the pain of loss. Be careful that your protective instincts don’t make it more difficult for your child to grieve. Like adults, children may experience chaos and loneliness when someone they love dies. Children have a different understanding of the finality of death based on their age and developmental level.
Here are some tips to help them:
- Let them know that they aren’t alone in what they are feeling. Be your child’s role model for how to grieve. Sharing some of your own sorrow can help your child feel less isolated.
- Help them understand what it means for someone to die. This is the only way they can comprehend what has happened. You may tell them, “Grandma has gone to heaven,” but they don’t know what that means.
- Explain what happens to the body of the person who has died. You might tell your child, “Grandma’sbody has stopped working. Her body doesn't feel anything.” You may also want to talk about your family’s spiritual beliefs at this time.
- Reassure children that they will be OK. Children often fear for their own safety after a loved one dies. They may also fear that their parents may die. Remind children of all the people who love them and who are there to take care of them.
On the path toward healing
The grieving process does not fit into a timetable. Healing from a loss can take a long time. Experts say that it may take years to adjust to the death of a loved one. Children may process grief in spurts over a period of years and grieve their loss at different developmental stages.
As time passes after a loved one dies, children may feel okay for only a few hours at a time. Eventually there will be good days, then weeks. Once the death of a loved one has been accepted, it does not mean that the person is forgotten. This is an important point to stress to children. Remembering this can help them and your family heal.
For more grief healing and education resources visit lorysplace.org or call 269.983.2707