Knowing what to say to children when a loved one dies can be a challenge. Many Endicott and Binghamton families have approached our team at Allen Memorial Home over the years wondering about the “best” ways to handle such a complex and emotional topic. In our work helping families plan funerals or memorial services, we’ve observed that children react to death differently, often depending on their ages.
While most realize something sad and difficult is going on, some children haven’t developed the coping skills for unpleasant events and may react in physical ways. This might include headaches, upset stomachs, or unusual aches and pains. In some cases, children will regress by thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, or having angry and aggressive tantrums. They may also avoid the issue entirely by pretending the person who died has simply gone shopping or on vacation. All of these behaviors are entirely normal.
Above all, children need sensitivity, patience, and support as they process the loss. Consider these tips when it comes to how you react to children during a time of grief:
- Do be honest but keep it simple when explaining death to children. For example, “Grandma’s body stopped working.”
- Do share your faith, but in a way your children can understand. If they need more details, they will ask questions. It’s perfectly acceptable to admit that you don’t always have the answers.
- Do help them find ways to express their grief and frustration, such as drawing, music, exercise, or other forms of play.
- Do include them in the funeral rituals or memorial services you plan.
- Do express your grief in front of your child. Tears and sadness are normal and appropriate reactions to death.
- Don’t try to hide the death from them.
- Don’t change your daily routine. As much as possible, keep to a consistent schedule including school and social events.
- Don’t use euphemisms and clichés to describe the situation. Phrases like “passed away,” “went to sleep,” or “moved on” can be confusing to children.
- Don’t be afraid or nervous to talk about your loved one. Research shows that sharing stories and memories helps with healing and closure.
- Don’t expect children to move through grief Losing a loved one is difficult, regardless of your age.
At Allen Memorial Home, we see it as part of our mission to help the grieving move toward healing, which is why we provide a number of aftercare resources for our families. You can even watch our video that provides a dose of encouragement and inspiration. It doesn’t matter what time of day, or what day of the week you need support, we’re here for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.