How to Help Children Through Grief
Grief is a part of life we are rarely prepared for and one that each of us experiences and grows through uniquely, including our children. We experience grief for different reasons, including, of course, the transition of a loved one or a pet but also during a divorce, after a move, starting a new school, leaving a favorite teacher, or the loss of a friendship.
Grief isn’t linear nor does it end, although in time we can move forward with love and cherished memories.
While these life events are inevitable, we can do our best to gently prepare for them so that in the midst of a situation with intense emotion, we have already had age-appropriate conversations with our children that we can refer to.
Being mindful of our words and willing to share what we are feeling models grief for our children; they will mirror what they see us do. Keep in mind that saying, “I am feeling sad” or “I am feeling angry” is different from “I am sad” and “I am angry.” It lets them know that everything we feel is okay and feelings come and go. It conveys that while we’ll feel anger, confusion, sadness, and fear, it’s also okay to feel happy, silly, and peaceful. Grief can trigger all of these emotions.
Seasons of Life
Grief has stages. A child may ask a countless number of questions, they may withdraw, or they may wish for Nana back as my niece did when she blew out her candles on her 6th birthday. It may be helpful to find a group or fellowship for children who have experienced loss. Having a ceremony or a ritual to help us remember a loved one—perhaps a favorite meal, song, or place you enjoyed visiting together—can help nurture children through these times. Our family enjoys trips to Pizza Heaven or a Greek restaurant on Nana’s birthday.
In time you may find an opportunity to create something tangible from the experience, perhaps planting a tree or flower garden, an art project, a fundraiser, or something specific to the person who is no longer physically with you.
While the use of euphemisms is discouraged—for instance, “They’ve gone on a long trip” or “They are sleeping”—the idea of sharing metaphors can be helpful. Depending on the child’s age and understanding, you can illustrate life cycles by pointing out the seasonal cycles of a tree or that snowflakes and rain simply change form.
Beloved teacher Wayne Dyer, Ed.D., often shared the poem by Henry Scott Holland, “Death Is Nothing at All,” which encourages us to keep talking to loved ones when they’re gone, as if they’re simply in the next room. There are beautiful songs, books, and movies to support grief, but consider watching these before the need arises in order to teach that we are all going to die in this human form someday. Have conversations so that children understand death is a part of the circle of life.
Plant seeds so when the moments come, there’s a place to start the conversation. You can revisit the books, songs, or movies and have conversations about the situation you’re going and growing through together.
A few resources:
- Movies: Coco, The Lion King, UP, and Charlotte’s Web
- Songs: “She’d Say” by Andy Grammer, “Shine” by The Space Brothers, “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
- Books: Turned Upside Down by Teana Tache, The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr, Tear Soup by Chuck DeKlyen
A Prayer for Grief for All Children
I take three full, deep breaths, centering myself into the present moment, knowing we are all connected to and through one infinite source. I acknowledge that as human beings, we experience feelings of loss and grief. I know everything in this lifetime is temporary, yet our souls are eternal. I trust that by tuning in to my inner wisdom, I can find the energy, time, and words to guide myself and my family through any and every challenging circumstance. We go and grow through grief as one of life’s most profound experiences with patience, grace, gratitude, and prayer.
A Shared Family Prayer for Grief
With our hands on our hearts, we take in a big belly breath, hold it in, and release. In life we are here to experience all the feelings—from joy and happiness to fear and sadness. When loved ones are no longer with us physically, they stay close in our hearts and memories, reminding us to keep shining!