Helping Children Cope with Bereavement

How do children, with their immature and incomplete understanding of life, cope with death? As parents and carers, you can help youngsters go through the grieving process.

Emotions Children May Experience After a Death

Children go through the five stages of grieving just as adults do. These emotions may not be exhibited in this exact order, and children may go onto one stage and then regress to a previous stage. 

  • Denial. The first emotion children feel after the person has died is a sensation of unreality. They cannot grasp the fact that the person is permanently gone.
  • Anger. Feelings of anger are normal. Children will possibly feel let down, not understanding that the dead person did not want to leave.
  • Bargaining. Children may bargain with a higher power to bring back the deceased person. This may be manifested by extra good behaviour so that perhaps the person will be brought back.
  • Depression. Children will feel sad and may express this through crying. It is important to remember that children will miss the deceased person in practical ways, such as wondering who is going to take them to school or cook supper.
  • Acceptance. When children get to the stage of accepting the death, it's important to involve them in age-appropriate discussions about funerals and other practical arrangements. For more advice on this, contact a business such as Affordable Family Funerals.

Other emotions experienced could be fear and guilt. Children could be afraid that someone else in the family is going to die and become clingy because of these fears. Also, they may feel guilty that in some way they are responsible for the death.

Supporting Grieving Children

The best way to help children cope with their emotions after a death is to communicate and create opportunities for discussion. Allow children to express themselves openly and to ask questions without fear of disapproval.

  • Initiate discussion in a casual way, responding to verbal clues from the children, and talking about emotions like fear and guilt and giving reassurance.
  • Encourage children to express anger in a non-destructive way. For example, give them some sheets of newspaper to tear up (to release the anger), then encourage them to make a collage picture with the paper, using glue, paint or crayons (constructive activity).
  • Together with verbal reassurance, give children lots of hugs and affection.
  • Let kids see the rest of the family grieving, and include them in discussions of arrangements.
  • If a sibling has died, ensure that children as well as parents are given attention; brothers and sisters are usually emotionally close, and when a sibling dies, a large part of day-to-day life is suddenly missing.

Supporting children through the grieving process is not easy, especially if the adults concerned are dealing with their own grief. Assisting children is extremely important so that no unresolved issues come to the fore in later years.