How do we help surviving children handle grief?

How do we help our surviving children when we as parents are overwhelmed by our own grief?

Many bereaved parents face this question when their child dies and they have surviving children at home. When parents encounter this situation, I encourage them to get as much help for themselves as their children. It is normal for your surviving children to have thoughts similar to these: “Who will take care me now? Did I cause the death? Will the rest of my family die? I’m alone now. I feel left out. Things will never be the same. No one cares about me. I can’t cry because it will make my parents more upset. I feel guilty to be happy or to laugh. Why isn’t it me? Will I die young too? If I act like my brother/sister, maybe my parents will feel better. I’m different from all the other kids”.
Many children will not necessarily voice their questions or concerns; rather they will act out their grief feelings of impatience, resentment, fear, anger or guilt.
To help children to cope with their grief, other parents have made the following suggestions:

  • Reassure them that they are loved, wanted, and okay.
  • Let them know it’s okay to cry by not always hiding your own tears.
  • Encourage them to resume their normal activities as they feel ready to do so.
  • Include them in what and how their teachers will be told.
  • Check out what is available in the way of support groups for children and teens.
  • Encourage talk about the person who died-both good and bad character qualities.
  • Remember the loved ones birthday and death dates.
  • Give lots of physical reassurances and appropriate touches and hugs.
  • By your example in facing your own grief, show your children it is okay to cry, to be sad, to be angry, and to laugh.
  • As difficult as it may be, try not to isolate your surviving children physically or emotionally.
  • When you are ready, share the belongings of your loved one with them.
  • Allow your children to take part in family rituals if they wish, such as visiting the cemetery or lighting a candle.
  • Remember that your child may continue to need information about the death at each new stage of growth and development.

Written by: Meghan Young
for Bereaved Families of Ontario