My Wonderful Life

Helping Children Deal with Loss

posted on 6/14/11 by Staff

A loss in the family can bring on a whole range of emotions. In addition to dealing with your own grief, helping children through this most difficult time is a necessity and will affect how they cope with this traumatic event. 

It’s important that you first understand how your child developmentally understands the concept of death. However, the grieving process is not predictable and should not be considered as such.

The following is an excerpt from an article by the National Association of School Psychologists called Helping Children Cope with Loss, Death, and Grief. It breaks down how children perceive death in the different stages of their life: infants, preschoolers, early elementary, middle school, and high school.


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Steps to Help Your Child Cope

There are lots of resources online from professionals that discuss this very topic. MWL grabbed a few of the best tips we saw, but you can also refer to the list of resources at the end of this post for more information.


  1. Help them understand the concept of death. When children are younger their view of the world is very literal, so explaining death in very matter-of-fact terms may be helpful. Medical jargon might confuse them. suggests telling your child that the “person's body wasn't working anymore and the doctors couldn't fix it.”
  2. “Realize that grieving is a process, and not an event.” The National Association of School Psychologists says resuming “normal” activities without grieving might be more traumatizing in the long run.
  3. Let your child ask questions. Death can seem like a very taboo subject, but children need to know they can come to you with any questions so they feel secure in sharing their emotions instead of keeping it bottled up inside. However, don’t rush your answers to their questions. More thoughtful explanations are better than quick answers.
  4. Explain funeral rituals and how they are used as a way to commemorate the life of a loved one. suggests participating in activities like creative writing, telling stories, and planting the loved one’s favorite flowers. These are all healthy outlets for grief and a way to maintain happy memories.




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1 Previous comment:

(1) On June 14, 2011, David H. () said:
Excellent resources - thanks! Sadly, our children are accustomed to dealing with death and grief, as they lost a newborn sister four years ago when they were 4 and 3 years old, respectively. We talk about her often and visit her grave a few times each summer. Our best advice would be to let children grieve on their own terms - it may manifest as temper tantrums or ploys for attention at first, then as seemingly insensitive questions or a desire to have death "explained." One thing we always said (and continue to say) is that death is the very thing that makes us alive, and is true for all living things, not just people. We have no choice but to accept it.

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