Helping Children Cope

Children grieve too, no matter how old they are. By talking with children in a way that is sensitive to their feelings and their ages, you can help them accept the loss and begin to heal. You may feel tempted to hide your emotions, but that may confuse a child. Sharing your feelings about the loss may help your children open up to you. Here are some suggestions to help you talk with your children.

Preschool children view death as reversible or temporary. When explaining death, parents should use simple and direct statements, such as “The baby wasn’t growing properly in mommy’s tummy” or “The baby’s lungs/heart weren’t working right.” It is important to use concrete words like died or dead and avoid phrases like passed away, lost, or sleeping, as these abstract terms may be confusing to small children. Because preschoolers are magical thinkers, incomplete explanations or lack of information could increase their fears and fantasies. Children of this age are also egocentric (everything centers on them). Parents need to remind them that no one is to blame for the baby’s death and reassure them that they are safe and healthy. Be prepared for questions. This might be a preschooler’s cue that they want to talk more about the baby.

School-age children have a better grasp of the finality of death, but may not see it as something that can happen to them. A child of this age may be more interested in the biological aspects of the death. They are learning so much about their world that they may need detailed explanations about how/why the baby died. Be patient with their curiosities and give honest, concrete answers. You may notice some changes in behavior when children are grieving. Let them know that their feelings are important to you and always be a good listener.
Adolescents think more like adults and are capable of fully understanding the implications of death. Answer their questions about death as honestly as possible. They may find it difficult to express their feelings, so be supportive by keeping the lines of communication open. You can validate their feelings by sharing your own.

Be prepared for possible changes in your child’s behavior including crying, nightmares, anger, discipline problems or wetting the bed. Careful listening and watching will help you learn how to respond to your child’s needs. Involving children in the funeral or memorial services may help them accept the reality of death. If your child wants to participate, be sure to prepare them for what they will see and experience at the funeral. Giving a memento or toy to be buried with the baby may also help your child be a part of the service. Helping your child return to their normal schedule or routine will also assist them in dealing with this difficult time. Remember that all children grieve differently. As a parent, it is important to let them know that you love them and understand their feelings. Reading books with children about the life cycle may be helpful during this time.

Some recommended books about the life cycle are:

  • My Many Coloured Day by Dr. Seuss
  • Becky and the Worry Cup by Wendy Harpham
  • Wemberly Worried by Keyen Henkes.