How To Help Your Children Cope With Their First Loss

The first loss of a family member, friend, or family pet can be difficult, scary, and confusing for your children. Your children will not only need help and support with the grieving process, they will also need help understanding topics such as what happens after someone passes, why is life taken away, what happens to the body, who decides who lives and who dies, etc. These are all challenging subjects, even for adults.

Aside from loving them dearly, here are some ways you can help your children cope with a first loss:

Room for emotions

At times of grief, everyone reacts differently. During a first loss, a lot more is happening to your children aside from the sadness of losing a loved one; your children don’t have a frame of reference for how to handle the shock, the confusion, the pain, the anger, and all the other types of emotions related to the situation. Younger children might also not understand that this departure is permanent.

Your children will need time to grieve in their own ways, and no one can predict how that will go, or how long it will take. Be a great listener and allow plenty of room for your children to express all of their emotions, fears, and concerns in a supportive and loving environment.

Be Honest

While some details may not be age-appropriate for your children to hear, do your best to tell the unbiased truth about the circumstances of death. Kids are more perceptive than we think, if you sugar-coat the event, trying to minimize the pain, your children may know you are hiding information and think you don’t trust them to deal with it.

Not Their Fault

Children have a tendency to blame themselves for events occurring in the family. When someone, or a family pet, dies, some children may fabricate stories to blame the event on themselves, especially if the death occurred when they were away, on the way to school, or after a disagreement, etc. Make sure your children know it is not their fault.

Room for personal beliefs

Children are great at questioning everything they are told. Be ready to explain some of your beliefs about death; they may make great sense to you, but they may not to your children. For example, you may tell your children that “Grandma is now in a better place and is no longer suffering,” and in the midst of strong emotions and sorrow, how your children respond may surprise you, such as: “How do you know that? What if she is still suffering, and we can’t help her anymore?” “When is she coming back?” or, “She is stuck in a coffin six feet underground, how is that a better place?”

You may be surprised at how they see and understand death, it may even shock you or counter your own religion or beliefs, but it is important in this phase of grieving to not take your children’s comments or reactions personally.

Everyone grieves differently. Let your children express emotions and thoughts freely without correcting or judging, and let them decide what they need to believe in. As needed, once the initial mourning phase has passed, you can choose to re-address these concerns with your children.

Be a Role Model

While you may instinctively want to focus all of your energy on helping your children get through this difficult time, you should not hide your own grieving, but allow yourself to mourn as well.

The way you handle your pain and sorrow will teach more than words ever will. Make sure to process your own grieving and allow yourself time and space to heal. Your children will learn how to cope by watching you handle your grief.

If you are concerned about your children’s level of grief, methods of grieving, or if the loss is impacting you so deeply that you struggle to handle your normal family activities, consider grief counseling for you and for your children.