Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One

Coping with a Family Loss: A Heartfelt, Open Approach

Most of us fully understand that while death is a part of life, it actually never seems to get easier to contend with at any age. But the hardship is compounded when you have to help your little ones grasp in their own way exactly what is going on as they struggle with the painful absence of someone they loved.

Dealing with loss can feel difficult to discuss, but an honest conversation is really important to have; no matter if you’re the child or adult in the situation, an open talk can help one and all. However, a child’s capacity to understand death, and our approach to talking about it, will vary according to age. Each child is unique, but here are some useful guidelines you can keep in mind:

  1. Always encourage questions. This can be hard because you don’t have all the answers yourself, but it’s important to create an atmosphere of comfort and openness, sending the message that there’s no one right or wrong way to feel. You can also share any spiritual beliefs you have about death with the child.
  2. Until kids are five or six years old, their view of the world is very literal, so death needs to be explained in basic and concrete terms. If the loved one was ill or elderly, for example, you may explain that person’s body wasn’t working anymore and doctors couldn’t fix it. If someone died suddenly and/or unexpectedly, like in the case of an accident, you might explain what happened – that due to this very sad event, the person’s body stopped working.
  3. Avoid using euphemisms, such as telling kids the loved one “went to sleep” or “went away.” Because young kids think so literally, these phrases may inadvertently make them afraid to go to sleep themselves, or they’d assume if someone goes away for a bit, they’re not returning.
  4. Remember, younger kids often have a hard time grasping that all people and living things eventually die, and that it’s final and they won’t be coming back. So even after you’ve explained the situation, children may continue to ask where the loved one is. Though this may be frustrating and sad, maintain patience and understanding.
  5. Children ages six to ten start to understand the finality of death, even if they don’t comprehend it will happen to every living thing one day. For example, a nine-year-old may think that by behaving well or making a wish, Grandma won’t die. Kids this age may also personify death and think of it as a ghost or skeleton. You can best equip them to deal by giving accurate, simple, clear, and honest explanations about what has happened.
  6. As a teen’s understanding of death evolves, questions may naturally come up about mortality and vulnerability. An example of this is if someone dies in a car accident, the teen may feel scared to get behind the wheel or even ride in a car again. The ideal way to respond to this normal reaction is with empathy, and to also remind him or her of car safety measures like always wearing a seatbelt.
  7. When it comes to a funeral or memorial service, you make the call as to what’s best for your child. It’s appropriate for kids to attend a mourning ritual if they want to. Be sure to first explain what will happen at the service and give your kids the choice of whether or not to go. If you fear your own grief may prevent you from helping your child during this difficult time, ask a friend or family member to care for and focus on your child during the service. Choose someone you trust, and who won’t even mind leaving the service if your child wants to.

Death is one of the hardest situations you’ll face as a family, but it is healthy and normal for children to see you sad, crying, and in mourning. It will give them an example that it’s okay to be upset and express your true feelings about a loss. When these trying times are handled openly, honestly, and with a lot of heart, it will not only help your child to deal, but also yourself.



About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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