Children, like adults, experience grief in many different ways and with their own pace of recovery. Children often don't understand their feelings, and need the help, guidance, and support of loving adults to cope with their loss.
When answering a child's questions about death, adults should keep in mind the following:
- Talk with your child, and encourage him or her to ask questions. Answer questions simply, honestly, and accurately.
- Use language the child can understand. Modify explanations for the child's age and level of comprehension without being evasive or dishonest.
- It's not unusual for a child to ask the same question over and over again. It's important that you not become impatient with the child if this happens. Repeating questions and getting answers helps the child understand and adjust to the loss of a loved one.
- What is said is important, but the manner in which it is said has even greater significance. Be aware of your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and your emotions.
- Talk with the child about your feelings, and encourage the child to express his or her feelings. Listen to what the child says and how he or she says it.
- Watch the child at play to see what he or she is expressing as well; children will often express strong emotions by acting them out through play. Consider providing toys and activities that help the child relieve stress, such as modeling clay, finger-painting, playing in water, or other creative, messy activities.
- Children may want to hit or kick things, or otherwise behave aggressively. This is normal. Encourage the child to express these feelings by hitting a pillow, stuffed toy, or ball, which will allow him or her to physically express anger and tension in a non-harmful way.
- Reassure the child that you're going to get through this difficult time together. Repeat these reassurances frequently.
- Touch is a key component of healing, especially for children. Hold and physically comfort the child. You may find that this comforts you during a difficult time as well.
- Spend extra time with the child when you're putting him or her to bed. You may find that children who hadn't been bothered by the dark in the past suddenly want a nightlight.
If you're concerned that the child is taking a long time to heal, or isn't getting his or her emotions worked through even with your help and support, consider finding a counselor for the child. Grief counselors and other mental health professionals are trained in helping both children and adults work through their grief.