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 about death.
    • Extreme feelings – anger, sadness, aggression, tearfulness, having difficulty concentrating, lashing out at people close to them because they don’t understand their intense feelings.
    • 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. 
  • Scripture Help:
    • Psalm 23, 121
    • Proverbs 3:5-6
    • Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
    • Jeremiah 31:13
    • Matthew 7:7-11
    • John 14:1-4
    • Romans 8:26-28
    • Philippians 4:8; 4:12-13 
  • Additional Resources:
    • How to Talk to Your Kids About Really Important Things. Charles E. Schaefer and Theresa F. DiGeronimo. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publ., 1994.
    • Helping Children Cope with Death. Portland, OR: The Dougy Center, 1997.
    • When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death. Laurie K. Brown and Marc Brown. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1996. 
  • Care Tips:
    • 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
    • Listen
    • Show Love
    • Pray
    • Talk 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.
  • All the information from above is in the book Group’s Emergency Response Handbook. Loveland, CO: Group, 2008.