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Helping Your Child Cope with Death

Coping with the loss of a family member or friend is difficult for anyone—especially children and adolescents. For parents trying to help their children deal with death, the situation becomes even more challenging when the parents themselves are also grieving the loss. Here are some strategies for helping your child cope:

  • Let your child know that grieving is OK. Don’t be afraid to let your child see you cry or show emotion, and be sure to let her know that grieving is acceptable. Consider allowing your child to attend the funeral or memorial service to experience how others deal with loss.
  • Answer questions honestly. Children may have questions about death and dying. Unless there are unusual circumstances, it’s best to answer your child’s questions in an honest, direct, age-appropriate way. It’s also important to use correct terms to avoid misunderstanding. Instead of saying “Grandma’s gone away,” tell your child that “Grandma died last night.”
  • Offer reassurance. Young children often have “magical thinking.” They may feel their own actions caused the family member’s death. You may hear things like, “I didn’t listen to Grandpa last week, so that’s why he died.” Teenagers may feel guilty if they have grown apart from a relative. Talk to your child to learn what they are thinking and provide reassurance that they are not responsible and shouldn’t feel guilty.
  • Know the signs. Children often express grief through anger or silence. Teens may be more likely to engage in risky behavior, especially if they were very close to the person who died (parent, best friend).
  • Talk openly. Help your child find closure and acceptance by recalling good memories or looking through photos. Young children may benefit from creating artwork about the person who has died. Children may also appreciate having something that belonged to their loved one, such as a piece of clothing, a photo or jewelry.
  • Seek help, if needed. If you feel your child (or an adult), is having difficulty moving forward after a death, consult your primary care physician. He or she can help or refer you to a behavioral health provider.  
Sean Keller, MD

Author of this Article

Sean Keller, MD, specializes in internal medicine and pediatrics. He is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Internal Medicine & Pediatrics – IU Health Saxony Hospital, 13100 E. 136th St., Ste. 1200, in Fishers. He can be reached by calling the office at 317.678.3100.

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