How to Talk to Your Child About Grief and Loss

1. Be honest
Have an open and honest discussion with your child. It is okay to use the words “death” and “dying”. These are words that are more specific and do not lead to vague understanding of the truth.

2. Use simple language
Use words that are at your child’s level of understanding depending on their age and development.

3. Listen to your child
Sit close to your child while you are talking to them and provide direct eye contact. You can hug them and hold them near if this brings them comfort.

4. Accept your child’s feelings and response
Your child may cry, show anger, or shock with the initial news. At times no reaction is their need to make sense of the news with more time. Fear that the situation may happen to them is a typical response and can be dealt with by reassuring them that they are safe and that they can come to you for support.

5. Express your own emotions
Kids are more likely to express their emotions if they see you demonstrate your own emotions. It is okay for them to see you cry and show emotion. Extreme emotions should be expressed in private so that your child does not experience fear or discomfort.

6. Allow for ceremony or ritual
Engage with your child in an activity that memorializes the loss of the friend or loved one. This can include making a card, planting a flower, looking over photos, and talking about memories.

7. Maintain routine
Continue with your normal routines for the morning, afternoon and bedtime as a way to reassure them that their lives will go on as usual. Continue with your child’s normal recreational schedule as this will allow an outlet for the sadness and grief.

8. Monitor your child’s emotions and behaviors
Children don’t just communicate with words, they can do so through changing behaviors, moods, and attitudes. When you observe these changes, spend some time talking to them, listen, and be available to them. You can seek professional support if these changes continue.