General Guidelines for Helping Children Who Are Grieving
Here are some general guidelines for helping children when they are
Use simple, clear words.
Use words the child can understand. Use correct medical terms when talking
about disease and reasons for death. Do not say things in a way that may
confuse the child.
If you tell a child that "Uncle Steve's body
is in the ground," the child may wonder when Uncle Steve will come out of the
If you tell a child that "Sally is going to sleep for a
long, long time," the child may wonder when Sally will wake up.
Be honest. If a family
member has a serious illness, for example, explain the situation in words that
the child can understand. You can say, "Uncle Thomas has a bad illness that is
causing his lungs to fill with germs. The germs are too strong for his body to
get rid of them. We don't think he is going to live much
Talk about the meaning of the loss.
Loss is a natural part of life. You may want to use an example to help the
child understand the meaning of the loss. For example, say, "Remember when you
lost your stuffed bunny? You were very upset because you didn't think you would
ever see him again. Daddy feels that way now because he lost his
Prepare children for expected losses.
If you are planning to move, include the child in plans and preparations. If
someone in the family is ill and close to death, you can say, "Grandma is sick,
and we want to spend some time with her today." When death gets closer, you can
say, "Grandma is very sick, and we do not think she is going to live much
longer. We are going to say good-bye to her."
Involve children. If a loved one is dying in a hospital, ask
your child whether he or she wants to visit the hospital. Ask your child
whether he or she wishes to attend the funeral or memorial service. Children
generally have a good sense of what they can handle. If your child wishes to
attend the service, assure him or her that you (or another person) will be
there to answer questions or address concerns. Some children do not want to
visit a dying loved one or attend a memorial service. This is okay too. Do not
force your child to do something against his or her wishes.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.