Supporting Children as They Grieve the Loss of a Friend or Family Member

Grief support

Doing and Saying Just the Right Things

To Help a Child Cope with Loss…

Children can feel grief from loss as early as four to six months old. Like adults, children may respond to grief with humor, behavioral issues and sleep problems.

Be patient and tolerant, and encourage them to share their thoughts.

Here are some things you can do to support a grieving child.

When you learn that a person has died…

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  • Send the child a note acknowledging their loss. Recognize their grief and fears.

During the services…

  • Include children in the activities. Be prepared to answer questions honestly that may seem inappropriate.
  • Don’t feel guilty about saying or doing something that causes a child to cry or cry yourself. Crying is healthy.
  • Introduce yourself to the child and refer to the deceased by name. Children are often uncomfortable meeting so many new people at once.
  • Minimize a party-like atmosphere. It conflicts with a child’s understanding of death.
  • Share a story about their loved one.

After the services…

  • Bring the child an appropriate gift.
  • Let children know that feelings of abandonment, anger and fear are all OK.
  • Children may need special attention to help them adjust to their loss. It’s wise to help them find appropriate therapy or a support group.
  • Recognize that teens may have difficulty talking with friends about their loss. Be aware that they may turn to alcohol or drug use to help them cope.

Don’ts…

  • Don’t hide death by telling a child the deceased is only sleeping.
  • Don’t shy away from explaining how and why the person died.
  • Don’t involve a child in discussions about moving or other practical matters. Speculative conversations may be misinterpreted and cause the child even more worry.

What to say…

Use your own words to convey messages like these:

“Sometimes we feel like it’s our fault when someone dies, but it’s not.”

“It’s hard to imagine someone we love has died.”

“I am so sorry your friend/parent/sibling died. I know you will miss him/her.”

“When someone dies, it’s OK to talk about how you feel.”

Don’t say…

“Now you have to be the big boy/girl.”

“Remember, now he/she is in heaven.”

“It’s a blessing that God took your mother, because she’s not suffering any more.”

“Don’t cry. Your family needs you to be strong now.”


See related topics:

Good Grief
Stages of Grief
Your Grief
Helping Others
Death of an Infant
Death of a Child
Accidental Death
Terminal Illness
Death of a Spouse
Death of an Elderly Spouse
Suicide