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Helping Children Through Grief

TALK

As soon as possible after the death, set aside time to talk with the child.

Give the child the facts as simply as possible.  Do not go into to much detail; the child will ask more questions if they come to mind.

If you can not answer the child's questions, it is okay to say, "I don't know how to answer that, but perhaps we can find someone to help us".

Use the correct language, i.e., "dead","murdered", etc.  Do not use such phrases as "S/He is sleeping", "God took him/her to heaven", "S/He went away", etc.

Ask questions.  "What are you feeling?", "What have you heard from your friends?", "What do you think happened?", etc.

Discuss your feelings with the child, especially if you are crying.  This gives the child permission to cry too.   Adults are children's role models, and it  is good for children to see our sadness and to share mutual feelings of sadness.

Use the deceased's name.

Talk about a variety of feelings, e.g., sadness, anger, fear, depression, wishing to die, feeling responsible, etc.

Talk about the wake/funeral, explain what happens, and ask the child if s/he wants to go.  Include him/her, if possible.

Talk with the child about your family's spiritual beliefs, including what happens to people after they die.

Talk about memories of the deceased, both good and bad.

DOING

Read to the child about death.   There are many good children's books available.

Read a book about children's grief so you have a better understanding what your child is experiencing.

Help the child write a letter to the deceased.

Help the child keep a diary of his/her feelings.

Invite your child and his/her friends, school mates, family members, etc. to plan a memorial for the deceased.

Discuss rumors, media reports, etc., with the child so that s/he can clarify information regularly.

OBSERVING

Be alert for reports or observations of "bad dreams".  Talk about them with the child.  Dreams are sometimes a way to discharge stress.

Be alert for behavioral changes in your child.  If they concern you, seek professional help.

UNDERSTANDING

Understand your child's level of comprehension and speak at that level.

It may take some time for your child to understand the concept, "gone forever", especially if s/he is very young.

Your child may think that s/he caused the death because s/he had been thinking bad thoughts or had been angry with the deceased just before the death.

The sudden and unexpected death of a peer is especially difficult for a child to comprehend;  children tend to feel invulnerable.  


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"Someone I Love Was Murdered"

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