The death of a loved one is one of the most challenging life experiences many of us will face. It’s especially difficult for a child. Coping with loss can seem hopeless at times, but there are some ways to help children move through grief. At Cypress Lawn, our staff members provide funeral and cremation services for many San Francisco families with young children. We understand how hard it can be to comfort young people after a devastating loss.
Here is some advice for helping children cope with the death of a loved one:
Encourage them to express their emotions in authentic ways.
Not all children—especially the very young—can share how they’re feeling in words. Grief can be expressed in multiple ways, whether it’s through art, exercise, or revisiting memories of a loved one. Encourage the child to share openly how they’re feeling in whatever way comes naturally to them.
Take the child’s age into account.
Not all children require the same type of support. Older children may be ready to talk openly about death and funerals, while a younger child may be satisfied with more simplified answers to their questions. A teenager or middle schooler will likely benefit from more intentional support like grief-focused conversations compared to an elementary-school age child.
Be compassionate around how grief affects the child.
Children react differently to complicated life circumstances. One child may exhibit no outward signs of grief, while another may perform poorly at school or experience bouts of sadness or anger. Address the child’s behavior with patience and kindness and encourage them to share how they’re feeling.
Model your emotions in a healthy way.
In the face of a grieving child, your instinct might be to hide your feelings of grief so as not to worry them. This can do more harm than good, as the child might take your avoidance as a reason to mask or ignore their emotions. Express how you’re feeling in an honest yet measured way, and as a result, the child may feel more comfortable expressing their own emotions.
Consider letting them attend the funeral.
A funeral can serve as a meaningful step on the road to healing from a loss. Taking a child to a funeral may or may not be the right action for your family. Consider their age and maturity level and ask them if they’d like to go. If you decide to let the child attend the funeral, prepare for the unexpected, as emotions can run high at such an emotional event.