Losing a loved one is difficult at any age, but dealing with a loss as a child can have a significant impact on how they process emotions as they grow and mature. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 school-aged children will experience the death of a significant person, and 1 in 20 will experience the death of a parent. 

Navigating difficult conversations around death and grief with children may be difficult, so it is important to know how to support them, and yourself, during this time. 

To guide the conversation, a parent, caregiver, or adult may want to first consider their own emotions through reflection before trying to hold space for the child’s emotions. If the adult is feeling stress or anxiety, a child can pickup on those emotions and become more uncomfortable discussing their feelings. A good place to begin is by asking the child what they know and understand about the situation. This can help them feel validated in their feelings or questions (Childbereavement.org).  

Validating a child’s feelings includes actively listening to their thoughts, questions, and needs. Try to gently correct any misinformation or misconceptions while acknowledging any underlying fears or concerns, as children may not fully understand death or if someone’s death means they are in danger. 

When answering questions, you can keep your answers simple and honest. Keeping information can cause more anxiety, or give the idea that things are too horrible to discuss. Using simple terms, such as “something very bad happened,” or “I don’t have all of the answers yet, but I’ll tell you when I do,” or asking if they have questions can help the child feel safe to express their feelings and develop an understanding of what’s happened. 

Children may feel confused, anxious, defensive, withdrawn and may struggle to concentrate after a loss. Some develop separation anxiety from caregivers, or regress to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting. These behaviors are common in children, but if it continues for longer than a few weeks, seeking the help of a counselor may be beneficial to ensure that the child is able to process and begin healing. 

Staying in communication, and open to conversations with a child, can also reassure them in the days and weeks following the death of a loved one. Children should see that grief is a process and expressing feelings in front of them can also help them see they are not alone in their sadness. Leading by example for the child can show them how to process in a safe, healthy way, surrounded by trusted loved ones or caregivers.  

For additional information about how to support a child who is grieving visit:  

The most important you can do for a grieving child is to be patient and show them they are not alone.