New York State Funeral Directors Association

Helping Children Deal with Grief

We sympathize when we see someone experiencing grief caused by the death of a loved one, but there is something especially poignant about a child who grieves over the loss of a parent, grandparent, sibling, or even a beloved pet.

When children experience the death of a loved one they grieve just as adults do, but, they may not be able to verbalize their sorrow.

To compound this, many adults may not feel comfortable dealing with children's sadness, especially when grieving themselves.
They don't know how to start the conversation, they don't know what to say, and, especially, they are fearful of saying the wrong things.

So what can you do? There are many wonderful books that can help. For example, in Helping Children Grieve, Theresa Huntley includes some basic suggestions excerpted here that will help adults who want to console a grieving child:

  • Be aware of personal feelings. When we are in touch with our own feelings (sadness, loss, regret), we will be better able to help bereaved children deal with theirs.
  • Recognize that each child's level of understanding is different. Provide the children with information and responses appropriate for their age level.
  • Recognize that each child will grieve differently.
  • Encourage questions.
  • Encourage the expression of feelings. Let children know that it is okay to show their emotions.
  • Encourage participation in events following the death. Tell the children about the events that will be taking place (i.e., wake, funeral, burial). Give the children permission to choose the extent of their participation.
  • Help a child to commemorate the life of the deceased.
  • Try to maintain a sense of normalcy. To restore some semblance of security, try to follow the children's normal routine as closely as possible.

Also, the popular television show Sesame Street has many wonderful resources to help connect with a child who is mourning.

Children generally grieve in different ways than adults. As family and caregivers, we can recognize this and guide them with love through a difficult time. Ask your family funeral director for names of local bereavement counselors who can help.