Children and Loss

avatar By Kim Lovell, LBSW
L.B.S.W. - Family Services Director

There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

~ Winnie the Pooh

When you are a child, you never really know how true this is, until you grow up. All of us go through trials in our lives that challenge us as human beings. We are challenged as we grow to build character. Loss in a child’s eyes can come in many forms. Not only a death of a loved one or a pet, but loss could mean parent’s divorcing, moving to another town and losing close friendships.

Helping children grieve is one challenge a parent faces that is most difficult of all. We, in general, have difficulty on what is “right” in handling these sensitive situations. Helping children understand about death largely depends on their age, life experiences, and personality. states that it is important to be honest with kids and encourage questions. This is probably most difficult of all, especially if you feel you don’t have all the answers. But the key is to provide an open environment of comfort sending the message that there’s no one right or wrong way to feel. This is a good time to share your spiritual beliefs about death.

Children 5-6 years old- Kids this young often have a hard time understanding that all people and living things eventually die, and that its final and they won’t come back. So they may still continue to ask, even though you have explained it to them. Be patient and calmly reiterate that the person has died and they can’t come back. Avoid using vague wording like the loved one “went away” or “went to sleep”. Children think so literally, that they may fear of going to sleep that they may die too.

Children 6-10 years old- Kids this age start to grasp the finality of death. They deal best with death if you give them an accurate, simple, clear, and honest answer about what happened.

Teens- Teenagers have an understanding that every human being dies and that it is not due to their grades, behavior, wishes, or anything they try to do. For teens it is a great opportunity for education on car safety or eating healthy, etc. Teens generally want the meaning of life if it is a peer close to them. The best thing to do for teenagers is to encourage expression and sharing of their grief.

Funerals- Do children need to attend? That will depend on your children and your family. If they want to participate in the mourning ritual, let them take part. It would be important to inform them of what is going to take place before they go, so they can be prepared as possible. They will ask a lot of questions, but it will be good to inform them of the possibilities. Like they may hear people crying and people speaking. If you are grieving too, it may be better to let someone close to you explain to the child what may take place.

Allowing your children to experience grief, pain, and tears is a healthy way to deal with loss. It is a natural reaction and it can make kids more comfortable in their sharing their feelings. Most importantly, make the child feel safe.

When your fear touches someone’s pain, it becomes pity, when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.”

                                                      ― Stephen Levine

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