The Do’s & Don’ts for Helping a Grieving Child Cope

When grieving the loss of a loved one, or even a pet, it can be overwhelming for parents to cope with their own grief while also helping children cope with theirs.

5 “Do’s” for Helping Grieving Children Cope
Permission to Grieve: Allow the child to show that they are in an active state of mourning, and give them permission to do it in their own way.

Curiosity and Care: Be curious about what the child is experiencing. Ask lots of questions, yet with care. The questions are unobtrusive and paced. Once the question has been posed, patiently wait for a response. Allow the child to process in their own time.

Questions and Honest Answers: When kids lose a parent, sibling or anyone who has been dear to them, they will start to ask questions about death. Answer them as honestly as you are able. Find a way to be honest and yet respond appropriately for their age.

Separation of Grief: If the family is suffering from the loss of a loved one, often the children experience the loss of the loved one and the loss of the grieving parent(s). Though it is difficult to put the emotions of grief aside, remember that children are vulnerable, taking cues from the way in which the caregiver copes with the loss.

The Gift of Grief: In every loss there is a birth. In the moment of the active state of mourning it is very difficult to imagine that there could be something empowering about the loss. Often, children become more inventive, or better at sports or more insightful when they have lost a loved one or a pet.

5 “Don’ts” for Helping Grieving Children Cope:
Time for Mourning: Since grief is individual to everyone, know that children will not grieve the way the parents grieve. If you see them playing, don’t stop them, as they may be working out some of their grief in their language or comfort zone.

The Truth, Please: Saying “Daddy is in a very restful sleep” or “You will see your dog in your dreams” implants a false belief that can cause undue stress and fear for your child. No matter how old your child is, using metaphors for death that liken it to sleep often creates a fear of sleep. This can lead to anxiety and depression for children.

Children Need to be Children: It is often a knee-jerk reaction to the loss of a parent to adultify the children in the house. Expecting them to take on adult responsibilities creates a role for the child that they need not have. Let them be children and give them age-appropriate responsibilities, although not given as a response to the loss.

Hide and Seek ­ The Game of Grief: The phases of mourning come to you, rather than you seeking them out. When in the state of grief, children can have outrageous responses to simple situations and stimuli. Put punishments aside for now, and allow for backward movement if it occurs. If you normalize the reactions, the child will re-enter their appropriate developmental phase.

Go for a Group: Children often cope with their losses when they are exposed to other kids who have had a similar loss. Local houses of worship, YMCA’s, and even family clinics often offer grief support groups for kids of all ages. See below for some wonderful groups in Staten Island.

By Edy Nathan, MA, LCSWR, the author of the critically acclaimed book It’s Grief: The Dance of Self-Discovery Through Trauma and Loss, and a nationally recognized keynote speaker. Find her at

Helpful Resources

Emma’s Place, Staten Island Grief and Loss Center for Children and Families
• Year-round, free, professional grief counseling for children and families. Offering groups, educational training, workshops and presentations for schools and businesses.
347-850-2322 • •
[email protected]

Camp Good Grief of Staten Island
• A free camp for grieving children and teens.Campers create positive memories, participate in age appropriate activities, and experience much more. Next camp is May 31 – June 2.
1-888-507-4474 • • s[email protected]

The Compassionate Friends Staten Island Chapter
• Provides personal comfort, hope, and support to families experiencing the death of a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or a grandchild, and helps others better assist the grieving family.
718-227-6516 • • [email protected]