Parenting: Coping with Death and Grief
Perhaps one of the hardest things we deal
with in life is death. Death and grief become especially difficult when we are faced with the death of a child. Here is some
information which may be helpful for you as you help your children through the grieving process.
Grief is a very painful
emotion, and it can be difficult to see a child hurting. Because of his, adults often try to shield children from the intense
emotions that surround the loss of a loved one. But like adults, children need the opportunity to grieve. They experience
the same stages of grief as adults, but these stages do not have to go in a certain order or follow a specific timeline. The
grief process can range anywhere from a month to several years.
However, children do grieve differently from adults.
While adults tend to grieve for an extended period of time, children tend to go in and out of the grieving process because
they don’t have the ability to deal with those big feelings on a consistent basis. Here are three of the most basic
stages of grief, and how children handle them:
Shock and disbelief
– thinking “this can’t be true,” making comments that a family member will be back soon, asking questions
Extreme feelings – anger, sadness, aggression,
tearfulness, having difficulty concentrating, lashing out at people close to them because they don’t understand their
Acceptance – starting to move forward
without frequent thoughts of the death, retuning to normal activities, sharing positive memories of the loved one rather than
focusing on their sad feelings.
Children understand death differently at various ages. Here are some ideas
for how a child’s age affects his or her understanding of the finality of death:
Under 6 years old: most children under 6 won’t be able to understand what it means to never see someone again.
They might say, “Is Grandma going to be dead tomorrow?” They will probably ask repetitive questions about what
death is in an attempt to understand it.
6 to 8 years old: At this age, children start to gain a greater understanding
of death, but often think on a fantasy level. They may develop a fear of ghosts and see death as a scary thing. They may show
signs of guilt, feeling like they somehow caused the death. They may also display fear that others around them will die.
9 years old to teenager: Children will now start to fully understand the finality of death.
While they can express their feelings more verbally, they may not choose to initially. At this age, they want to feel accepted
by their friends, pastors, teachers, and coaches – if a parent dies, they may feel different from their friends. Encourage
kids this age that their feelings are accepted and normal.
Psalm 23, 121
How to Talk to Your Kids About Really Important Things. Charles E. Schaefer and Theresa F.
DiGeronimo. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publ., 1994.
Children Cope with Death. Portland, OR: The Dougy Center, 1997.
Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death. Laurie K. Brown and Marc Brown. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1996.
Encourage active grieving
– try to continue to live an active, normal life while still devoting time to expressing feelings of sadness
Be there – let your child know you are there for them and care for/about them
with a Pastor
If you need additional information or need to talk through issues of death and grieving, please
do not hesitate to call any of the pastors at Central.
the information from above is in the book Group’s Emergency Response Handbook. Loveland, CO: Group, 2008.