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Guiding Children Through Grief and Loss

When someone who we love dies it creates an array of complicated emotions which take time to process. Coming to terms with loss and grief can be even more difficult for children, whose minds are not yet fully developed. Many of them have never experienced such a loss before, and that can make it even more frightening and overwhelming. Children need the love and support of caring adults to help them navigate through this new territory, and this article has some tips to help both of you as you help each other.

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First of all, it is important that we talk to children about death. This is not an easy subject for many. How you talk to them will be dependent on their age, but in general it is important to keep the discussion in honest, simple terms that a child can understand: “Grandpa had an illness that was too much for his body, but don’t worry, people don’t die every time they get sick.” Also, don’t use confusing expressions like “they fell asleep” or “Nana is gone.” Young children think in literal terms, and this can confuse and upset them. An adult whose mother passed away when she was eight years old shared her personal experience: “They told me my mom was gone, but I remember thinking that they lied. She was lying right there in that box!” She then spent the entire rest of the visitation wondering why her mother didn’t wake up, since the adults had also told her that her mother was “asleep.” Telling a child that death is like “going to sleep and never waking up” is a confusing analogy, and may make them afraid to go to bed at night.  Continue reading