Tuesday, October 26, 2021

How to Help a Grieving Child

Tuesday, October 26, 2021 Submitted by Donna Lindquist 

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:6-7

How to Help a Grieving Child

When a child hears about a death of a person, they may become anxious about their own parents dying and want to ask questions.  If a child experiences the personal loss of a parent or sibling, it can be overwhelming, and you may require some extra family or pastoral care. 

First, it is important to remember that children are concrete learners and handle grief differently than adults.  You may see evidence of grief, like denial or anger, but children tend to exhibit two main feelings:  insecurity and sorrow.

Insecurity is fearful anxiety that occurs when we feel threatened or unsafe and this can be different for each child.  One may have loud outburst, while another may become withdrawn or hide, especially in large gatherings. While others may not want to be alone or have a physical response like a stomachache.

Responding to insecurity:

1.     Reassure your child of your love and care often.  During a time of sorrow, children need encouraging words of affirmation and love several times a day. Some parents have a special way to say, “see you later”, like throwing kisses, or a hip-bump.  Others have a special book they read at bedtime, or song or prayer. Developing a way of showing your care can last for years and be very special to you and your child.  My mom read and quoted many scriptures to me as a child, and I did the same with my boys. One verse from Psalm 91:11 became a favorite and we still say it over them today.  “For He will order His angels to protect you wherever you go.”  

2.     Keep to the child’s routine as much as possible.  Children rely on a basic routine of their day to feel secure.  So, when their daily routine suddenly alters, you may see some behavior concerns or frustration.  When grief is involved, their routine may be forever altered, so, if possible, create a daily plan, or talk to them about upcoming changes.  Keep the discussion simple and direct but reassuring them that you are there to help them adjust.  Skipping practices for a few weeks, will be okay, but the physical care of your child must be the number one priority.  Regular meals, sleep, exercise, and cleanliness are challenging during the grieving process, but are essential in creating a sense of protection.    

3.     Allow family members and friends to assist you in caring for your child.  During a sorrowful or anxious time, families come together to share their pain.  Having others around may ease your child’s anxiety creating a more secure environment, and these trusted adults are a necessary support for you and your child.  Having extended family or dependable people you can call can be a huge reassurance to your child of God’s provision in your life and will help you progress through this challenging time.

4.     Talk about the future.  As much as we hate to realize it, life does go on, and your child needs to feel confident in what is ahead.  Talking about what is coming up with your child provides a hope and purpose and bring comfort to your child and others.  Thinking about their birthday, or Christmas or what they want to be when they are grown reassures them of God’s protection.  A child may need assistance to visualize into the time ahead without a loved one and this can be challenging, but in time and taking it slowly, most children respond with resiliency.   

Sorrow is a combination of emotions defined by a tragic personal loss which can be physically and emotionally debilitating.  Physical signs may include a headache, stomachache, fatigue, disorientation and emotional concerns like excessive crying, anger, detachment, anxieties and others.  For children, this can include any combination of these emotions, and can be overwhelming for a family during the grieving process.

Responding to sorrow:

1.     Tears are nature’s method of healing.  Children cry over many things, but when death enters their world, they shed a unique kind of tears.  This sudden, intense, emotional reaction to severe pain or trauma is grieving, or mourning.  For a child, grieving can last a long time and it is important to allow time to cry and be sad.  Parental attachment may seem more excessive for a while, but to the child it is necessary, to overcome their sense of anxiety. Unfortunately, sadness is a part of the world we live in, but tears are healthy and God’s way of cleansing the soul.  Romans 12:15 tells us to mourn with those who are mourning, and so being empathic to others is essential in responding to their sorrow.


2.     Be truthful with your child about loss. Many parents may want to shelter their child from the pain and heartache of loss which may not be helpful but bring about more questions and frustration.  Children do not need all the details but need to know what has happened to their family member or friend.  Your child’s concept of death will be based on what they hear and see in the weeks ahead, so be truthful and open to their questions.  If this is their first experience with a funeral or memorial service, then be prepared for how they may respond emotionally. 


3.     Remember and press on.  During the grieving process, children may need a way to remember their loved one or friend.  Remembering the person can be as simple as singing their favorite song or baking their favorite dessert.  However, another important piece in responding to sorrow is going to visit or take flowers to their grave.  When my sister passed away suddenly, visiting her grave eased the pain and helped me process my grief, and years later, I still drive by and sit and talk to her.  Remembering the person allows us to move forward and yet reminds us of their significance in our lives. 


Remind your child that God is our refuge and protection during a time of loss, and He is close to those who are brokenhearted.  Also remember that love casts out all fear, and so spend time with your child reminding him of God’s love for your family. 

For your grieving child, nothing is better than feeling your arms embracing them and comforting their pain.  Just like an open wound, some require more than a hug; Some hurts need time to heal, and a little more attention to fully recover.  When a child senses your intuitive heart, they will become more willing to share their feelings and hurts and respond to their sorrow in a healthy way.  


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