How to talk to your child about loss and grief

Death can be a difficult subject for parents and caretakers to discuss with children. Children feel and show their grief in different ways. How children cope with death can depend on things like their age and developmental level, their relationship to the person who died, and the support they receive.  

Some helpful hints for supporting children through grief experiences include:

  • Be honest about the situation
  • Use simple and clear words
  • Use the terms “died/dead/death” rather than phrases like “passed away” or “taken from us”    
  • Listen and encourage questions
  • Encourage your child to express their feelings, no matter what they are
  • Remind that there’s not a right or wrong way to feel and that everyone has different reactions to death at different times
  • Remind that grief can feel like a roller coaster ride, with waves of emotion that come and go
  • Provide comfort and reassurance
  • Be honest about your own grief responses…it is okay to model healthy grieving   
  • Try to maintain typical daily routines to promote stability
  • Prepare your child for what will happen at viewings, rituals, funerals, or memorial services
  • If the death of a loved one means there will be changes to routines in your child’s life, tell your child what to expect
  • Anticipate potential grief triggers such as the death anniversary date and holidays
  • Access resources if you become concerned about your child’s grief responses.

If you would like additional information or support in talking to children about loss and grief, please contact your school’s school counselor or an Area Education Agency (AEA) school psychologist or social worker. These professionals have specific training to guide you and your child through the grief process and can assist in assuring that grief does not become a distraction from the learning process at school. Each AEA in Iowa has a team of professionals that serve local school districts in times of crisis to assure that the school administrators have the resources and supports needed to respond to student and adult needs.

Kandice Bienfang-Lee, School Social Worker

Kandice Bienfang-Lee, School Social Worker

Kandice Beinfang-Lee is a School Social Worker with Area Education Agency 267, which serves over 62,000 students in school districts representing 18 counties in north central and eastern Iowa. She can be reached at klee@aea267.k12.ia.us.

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