By Helen Fitzgerald, CT
• As soon as possible after the death, set time aside to talk to
• Give your child the facts in a simple manner -- be careful not to
go into too much detail. Your child will ask more questions as they
come up in his/her mind.
• If you can't answer your child’s questions, it's okay to say, "I
don't know how to answer that, but perhaps we can find someone to
• Use the correct language - say the word "dead" etc. Do not use
phrases such as: "He's sleeping," or "God took her," or "He went
• Ask your child questions to better understand what he or she may
be thinking or feeling. "What are you feeling?" "What have you
heard from your friends?" "What do you think happened?" etc.
• Explain your feelings to your child, especially if you are
crying. Give children permission to cry. We are their role models
and it's appropriate for children to see our sadness and for us to
share our feelings with them.
• Use the given name of the deceased when speaking of him or
• Understand the age and level of comprehension of your child.
Speak to that level.
• Talk about feelings, such as: sad, angry, feeling responsible,
scared, tearful, depressed, worried, etc.
• Read an age-appropriate book on childhood grief so you have a
better understanding of what your child may be experiencing. (Click
on the Books tab of the Grief at School menu for suggested
• Read an age-appropriate book on death to your child. Take time to
discuss what you have read and relate it to what is happening to
you. (Click on the Books tab of the Grief at School menu for
• Talk about the viewing and funeral. Explain what happens at these
events and find out if your child wants to attend.
• Think about ways your child can say "goodbye" to the person who
• Talk to your child about God, if appropriate, and what happens to
people after they die.
• Invite your child to come back to you if he or she has more
questions or has heard rumors -- tell your child you will help get
the correct information.
• Talk about memories, good ones and ones not so good.
• Watch out for "bad dreams." Are they occurring often? Talk about
• Watch for behavioral changes in your child both at home or at
• Friends, family, schoolmates, etc, frequently find solace and
comfort in doing something in the name of the person who died - a
• You might see some of the following behavior:
- Clinging to you
- Somatic complaints
- Temporary dip in grades
- More pronounced fears, e.g, of dying or of you dying, of the
- Regression in behavior
- Aggressive behavior
These are normal emotions. If, however, you ever feel the reactions
are more extreme or lasting longer than you think they should be,
never hesitate to consult a professional.
• Offer your child loving, touching support.
Visit American Hospice Foundation's
Grief at School
page where you will find materials to help
address children's grief.
Helping Children Through Grief article was originally published
on the American Hospice Foundation
website. © 2004 American Hospice Foundation. All Rights
How Can We Respond to the Grief of Children?
Children and Funerals
When a Teenager Dies
Helping Children Cope with a Parent's Death
Who Will Care for My Children If Something Happens to Me?
Also by Helen Fitzgerald:
After a Tragedy: What Kids Can Do
The Grieving Teen
Writing a Condolence Note to a Grieving Child or Adolescent
Military Kids: Responding to Their Grief
The Grief of Grandparents
Helen Fitzgerald is a Certified Thanatologist, author and
lecturer. Her books include
The Grieving Child: A Parents' Guide,
The Mourning Handbook and
The Grieving Teen. She has appeared
on the CBS Morning Show and the NBC Today Show and was previously
the director of training for the American Hospice Foundation. You
can ask Helen a question about dealing with grief and loss by
Ask Helen on the American Hospice Foundation website.
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