Recently I published a blog about grieving a death vs grieving a divorce. While that post concentrated on helping the child of divorce grieve, I heard from many people wanting tips for helping a child grieve the death of a loved one as well.
The organization, Church Initiative, which supports this blog, has several incredible curriculums to equip churches minister to people in crisis. One of those curriculums is GriefShare. Today’s blog will come from the GriefShare side of ministry.
It is important how you approach the child about the death of a loved one. How you talk to the child about the death depends on the type of death. Some different reasons a loved one dies might be a parent dies in an auto wreck, of natural causes, of a long-term illness, from a tragic accident, in a deployment to a war zone or in a terrorist attack. Whatever the situation the reason needs to be explained on the child’s developmental level. Always be truthful in explanations to children.
Helpful tips for the remaining parent
- Even though you are grieving, be there for your child when they need to talk, be hugged or just need to be near you.
- You can help your child by helping yourself grieve. Register for a GriefShare class at church close by.
- Talk about their parent and allow the child to talk about them also.
- Let the child draw or color pictures of their loved one.
- Display pictures around the house of the fun times the family had together.
- Develop a “Memory Box” by purchasing a special treasure box and help your child collect items that belonged to the other parent. Trinkets for boys might include key chain, keys, buttons off special shirts, sports gear, dad’s special hats, old watch, favorite toys from the parent’s childhood, etc. For girls special items could be mom’s jewelry, dad’s cuff links, special hats, buttons off special clothing, favorite books, Bible, etc.
- Some children might prefer creating a “memory book.” Allow your child to find special pictures of family outings, pictures of their parent, ticket stubs to a movie or sporting event, small items like buttons, keys, etc. Let the child arrange the items in any way they deem appropriate.
- On special days bake the parent’s favorite cake, cookies or even allow the child to cook the parent’s favorite breakfast.
- Allow your child to play through their grief. Children love to play and many will play through the funeral. Or some children will play through the moment they heard about their parent’s death. They will use all kinds of toys to work through their grief.
- Allow your child to sleep or wear a piece of clothing that belonged to their loved one.
Helpful tips for church leaders and children’s leaders
- Sometimes kids blame themselves when a parent dies. Thoughts such as, “Why didn’t I make him go to the doctor” will cause the child to have self-doubt. With the parent’s permission talk to the child about the reason their parent died.
- Don’t use phrases like, “God needed your dad in heaven” or, “Your mom just went to sleep” but be truthful on the child’s developmental level.
- Keep in mind that even though a child might be an elementary age child they may not understand exactly what happens when a person dies. The best way to explain it is the person’s body quit working. Every child has had a toy or pet or even seen an insect die. They understand things quit working. While I’m not equating the loss of a parent to death of a fly, the concept to get across is the body quit working.
- Let the child tell their story about their parent’s death. Some children will need to talk about it repeatedly.
- Remind the child that you are there for them and you will be there for them for a long time.
- Follow the child’s lead. If you sense they want to talk, then encourage it. If they don’t want to talk, don’t force it.
- Ask the children to show you their favorite picture of their loved one. Ask them why it is their favorite picture.
GriefShare can provide you with a free video titled, “How to Help Grieving Children,” This video can be downloaded and watched repeatedly. Find the video, along with guides for using it, on this here.