Life After Death: How to Help Your Child Cope After the Death of a Loved One
When a loved one passes away, children often have trouble processing their feelings and emotions. The way they show their grief is often far different compared to the way adults show grief. For that reason, it is sometimes hard for parents to know how to react or to understand what their child is feeling. Helping kids cope after death differs depending on how old the child is, what kind of support system they have available, and how close they were to the person that died.
Fortunately, there are ways you can assist your child with the grieving process. Allowing your child to cope with the death of someone they love is important. However, it is something they often cannot do alone. While it might seem difficult, the tips and advice listed below can make the death of a loved one easier on both you and your child.
Children react to death in different ways. Some may cry whereas others may show absolutely no emotion at all. Some children may react with feeling of anger or confusion. The most important thing you can remember is that there is no right or wrong way for your child to react. If your child is the type that shows no emotion, remember that it is normal. The best way to help your child cope after death is to do the following:
- Approach the situation gently and with simplicity: Although you should approach your child to break the news of a death gently, it is best not to beat around the bush. Use clear, concise words that your child can understand. Once you break the news of a death to your child, wait a moment to make sure they absorb and understand your words.
- Make sure to listen before you speak: Communication is important, and while you should talk to your child, it is best to first listen. Listen to see how your child will react. If your child cries, let them, but offer soothing hugs of reassurance. If your child seems angry, again you will want to offer soothing reassurance. In some instances, children will have questions, so listen and answer them as best you can.
- Ask your child questions, too: Sometimes children will have no reaction to the news. This may be a sign that they don’t understand what they are thinking or feeling. In those instances, make sure you ask your child directly how they feel to help them cope after death. Also, let your child know how you are feeling. For instance, you can say, “I’m sad that Grandpa died, too. However, he loved us very much. May I ask you how you are feeling or if there is anything you would like to say?”
- Explain what changes your child can expect: Offer explanations to your child about any changes in their life. For instance, the person that passed away provided afterschool care, explain to your child what arrangements have been made. Perhaps you have planned for a neighbor, friend, or other relative to provide after school care. It is important for your children to understand these changes so they can cope with the differences in their life.
- Explain funerals, wakes, and other religious processes: Some parents choose to keep their child out of the wake and funeral process. However, it is still best to explain those processes to your child. If you plan on bringing your child, you will need to explain what happens at a wake or funeral so they do not feel alarmed. Explain that people might cry and hug one another. Make sure your child knows that there might be a lot of people in attendance.
- Do activities in honor of your loved one: You and your child should do things together to help you remember the person that you loved and lost. For instance, create a scrap book in which you can share some of your favorite pictures and memories of the person who passed. Ask younger children to draw a picture of their favorite memory, or share happy stories of that person together.
- Remember that grieving takes time: The best way to help your child cope after death is to give them the time they need. Grieving differs from person-to-person, meaning some may take weeks whereas others may take months or longer. Just make sure you are there to emotionally support your child as long as it takes.
- Take your child to a therapist: Sometimes children need a little extra support, which is perfectly fine. It does not mean you are inadequate by any means. Therapy can have a positive impact on both you and your child, particularly if you are trying to help your child cope after death. A therapist can encourage your child to express his or her feelings while finding different coping mechanisms that work best for the both of you.
Remember that death is a very natural part of life. At some point, it is the sad truth that your child is likely to experience the death of someone they love. Fortunately, if you follow the tips listed above, you can help your child successfully cope after death. Make sure you avoid certain phrases when explaining death to your child. For example, never tell your child, “Grandpa was very sick and that is why he passed away.”
Saying something like that can cause uncertainty and fear in your child. They may think that when they or someone they know gets sick, it means they are going to die. If you need talking tips, ask a therapist for help. A therapist can help you talk to your child in a way that makes sense to ensure that your child can cope with the loss of a loved one.
Monica Ramunda is a solution-focused online therapist with an office located in Louisville, Colorado for in-office visits. With a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and more than 16 years experience in therapy and counseling, Monica works as both a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Registered Play Therapist (RPT) with adults and children respectively. Much of Monica’s success is based on her eclectic orientation and drawing on a wide range of different approaches and techniques all while remaining strongly grounded in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT).