How Adults Should Respond
Be open and honest. If children see that adults around them are upset, and you tell them that nothing is wrong, they will be even more confused and worried. Give them age-appropriate information. Share your family’s cultural beliefs about death. One beautiful way a mother explained her father’s death to her son was as follows:
“Daddy got really really hurt. The doctors tried to help him, but they couldn’t. Now daddy is a star in the sky, but you are sad, and I am sad because we miss him. We can still say goodnight to him every night. It’s not the same, but I think daddy can see and hear us.”
Try not to say things that may be confusing, such as, “Grandpa is asleep.” This is something we often say, but it can lead children to fear sleep.
Expressions of Grief
There are many ways children may express their grief, including:
Providers Can Help Kids Cope
- Fearing separations from others
New fears, such as being scared of the dark, loud noises, or monsters
Angry behavior – temper tantrums, irritability, aggressive behavior, hitting, and biting
Regressing, losing abilities they once had, acting like a baby
Trying to cheer everyone up
Becoming withdrawn or quiet
Everyone in the child’s circle of care should communicate with each other about the loss, in particular, about things that remind the child of the loss (activities they used to do with the person, birthdays and holidays, that person’s favorite things).
Help the child talk about the loss and keep memories alive. Just because people die does not mean we lose our connection to them. Speak to her feelings. Support her feelings of sadness, grief, and anger. You can say, “You miss your grandfather – you loved him very much and now you are sad and mad that he died.”
Talk to each other about the family’s cultural views about death and about the way the caregivers want the child to understand what happened, so that if the child begins to talk about the death or person, the way the school and the home talk about it is consistent.
Understand the child may need special attention. Providers can help the child to return to normal routines. Be sensitive to the fact that the child may be especially sensitive to changes in routines or caregivers and to separations.
Adults and Their Own Grief
Remember, it is normal for you to grieve, to cry, and to feel sad. When your child sees you upset, it is important to talk about it openly with your child. What you can do is share how you are feeling (sad, upset). Talk about why you feel that way – this person was very important to you and you miss them.
Let your child know that even though you are upset, you will be OK. You child needs to know this to feel safe and protected. If you feel that you are overwhelmed, or if you are unsure that you will be OK, make sure to take care of yourself. Do things that are pleasant, rest, relax, and seek help if necessary.