The death of a loved one impacts the entire family, and everyone deals with grief in their own way. There is no one “right” way to go through this difficult time, but it’s important to realize that children often grieve differently than adults.
Therefore, we wanted to provide 20 different ways to comfort a grieving child. It’s also vital to understand that all children are different and finding an appropriate way to help them may take some time, listening and patience.
How to Comfort a Grieving Child
Grieving children may be helped by support groups, camps geared toward the needs of grieving children, appropriate gifts, and open and heartfelt discussions. Following are some ways to help a grieving child.
20 Ways to Comfort and Help a Grieving Child
1. Listen attentively
Remember that listening attentively can facilitate the healing process. Don’t try to “solve” their problem, but use reflective listening techniques to affirm that you are hearing the young person’s story. It’s so important to create a safe place for them to express themselves and tell their story.
2. Be honest and open—and feel free to say “I don’t know”
Children will sense if you’re not being honest and transparent with them. By being truthful, you can open the door for difficult, yet healing, conversations.
Likewise, there are many unknowns related to death and life. Understanding and modeling that you do not have all the answers can aid the grieving process. This creates a sense of safety and a sense of belonging. It communicates that you are all in there together not knowing, but that because you have each other it is better, and there is hope.
3. Speak to them in terms they understand
Age-appropriate conversations are very useful in opening the door to allow the child to freely express their feelings. This is often how the path to coping with grief begins.
4. Give the child a creative outlet
Often, activities such as drawing or keeping a journal can go a long way toward healing. Let the child express themselves through activities such as crafts, listening to music or even writing stories.
5. Maintain boundaries
Children—particularly those who are grieving—need consistency. This means holding them accountable for obeying rules. Be gentle and compassionate when children “act out,” but remind them that they are still responsible for making the right choices. This kind of consistency will give them a sense of permanence when their world is changing.
6. Affirm feelings
Often, when a loved one dies, young people have confusing, scary and new feelings. It’s important to affirm that these feelings are not right or wrong. By doing so, you can help young people in their acceptance of these feelings.
Do not try to change or “fix” their feelings.
7. Share your own feelings
It’s okay for your grieving child to know that you are also sad and struggling with your feelings. This will help them feel like they are not alone. Consider telling them stories about your own life and times when you were struggling with grief and what you learned from it.
8. Try to model calmness when talking about death
Children imitate what they see. If they see you working your way through grief through positive actions, they will often follow your example. In our culture, there is a lot of uncertainty and fear about death—and many young people can take on this fear.
Always be open and honest and be aware that the child is looking toward you for guidance.
9. Do not make assumptions
Remember that grief is an individual process, and everyone goes through it differently. Don’t assume that just because there are commonalities in the grieving of young people that your loved one will follow the same pattern.
10. Give appropriate gifts
How do you give appropriate gifts for a grieving child? Look for items that will honor the memory of the loved one. This is how you help a grieving child.
For example, you may order a stuffed animal or blanket made from the loved one’s clothing. You may purchase a “bereavement kit” that contains framed photos of happy memories and art supplies to encourage your child to find creative outlets for their grief. A pendant engraved with the name of their loved one is a good choice for some children.
11. Read books for a grieving child
There are several online resources that recommend books that deal with grief and the loss of a family member or loved one. We encourage you to read the book to the child, and be sure to answer any questions they might have.
- I Miss You
- The Goodbye Book
- Sad Isn’t Bad
- While We Can’t Hug
12. Participate in a grief support group geared toward children
It helps a child know that they are not alone in their grief. Sometimes talking to others provides support.
13. Share stories about the loved one who died
Sharing memories is often healing. Children are interested in what others were like as children and reliving some of the best moments from the past. Be sure to focus on happy memories
14. Be patient
For both adults and children, processing grief takes time. The event transforms your very core, and it’s important to be patient both with the child and with yourself.
15. Do not underestimate the ability of young people to find their own answers
Expect that young people will have their own answers. Demonstrate a belief in their ability to resolve their own issues. When a setting is created where feelings are respected, young people will say what they need to hear themselves saying.
Sometimes this means allowing moments of silence or awkward pauses. Moments of quiet can indicate young people are thinking and processing and that is what you want to happen.
16. Reach out to others for support
If faith or religion is a source of strength for you, lean on help from your congregation or clergy. They will help both you and your child feel connected.
There are also professional therapists who specialize in assisting children. They can help your child cope with the multitude of emotions they’re experiencing
17. Listen to music
We’ve already mentioned how music can be a helpful creative outlet. One way it can help is by listening to songs that the loved one enjoyed. This is a different facet of the trip down memory lane.
Who knows? Maybe your loved one’s favorite song will become the child’s favorite.
18. Be direct when speaking about death
Children usually take things extremely literally. Therefore, if you explain that a loved one “went to sleep,” it may frighten the child, who will now be afraid to go to bed. By being direct and honest, you’re also helping the child develop coping skills.
19. Discuss the funeral
While funerals often provide closure, some children may not be ready for the intensity. Therefore, a child shouldn’t be forced or coerced to go to a funeral. However, if the child wants to go, give them an idea of what to expect.
20. Send them to one of our camps or support groups
Due to COVID-19, we have had to adjust the way we present our support groups in order to respect official guidelines and keep members of our community safe.
Contact us for options for individual, in-school or camp programs. We are carefully monitoring the COVID-19 situation and will offer in-person groups when it is safe to do so.
Pre-registration is required for most programs. Space is limited so those who are interested are encouraged to register early. There is no charge to participate. For more information or to register, call 910-796-7900.
Additional Resources from Lower Cape Fear LifeCare
If you’d like more resources on how to help grieving children, you may want to review the following:
- Our guide to communicating with young people about grief and loss
- Our handout about talking to children when a cure is no longer expected
- Information on developmental understanding of death and grief
Lower Cape Fear LifeCare Provides Compassionate Relief for the Entire Family
We are dedicated to the patients in our care, and we realize that caring for the whole patient means caring for the entire family. When children are involved, it’s necessary to develop specific strategies to help them with their needs.
For more information on our grief support, just contact us or view our calendar of upcoming virtual grief support workshops.