How to Help your Child Grieve

The 7 steps of grieving:

  1. Acknowledge the reality of the loss
  2. Experience and express the emotions that accompany grief
  3. Commemorate the life of the loved one
  4. Acknowledge ambivalence
  5. Resolve the ambivalence
  6. Let go
  7. Move on

ALM6-20111006-NL-010Over 20 years ago, I discussed theses seven steps of grieving in a book called “Bereavement: Counseling the Grieving throughout the Lifecycle” and while some are self-evident others require more explanation.

Acknowledge The Reality Of The Loss

You cannot easily acknowledge the loss if you are in shock. In cases of sudden, unexpected death, it is hard to accept the harsh reality that the death of a cherished person, family or friend has occurred.

Experience And Express The Wide Range Of Emotions

Children especially need considerable help and support in identifying the complex mix of feelings they experience when someone important to them dies. It is crucial to normalize these feelings so they do not feel alone or feel shame because they think they should not have such feelings. The more children can be helped to put their emotions into words, through drawing or by playing them out, the healthier the outcome of the grief process.

Commemorate The Life Of The Loved One

Planting a tree or a flower in the garden or establishing a scholarship memorial fund are all examples of commemoration and ways of expressing love for the departed. In the cases of children grieving, it can help to just make a card or a picture to honor their loved one.

Acknowledge And Resolve Ambivalence


Children will need help with this step. Usually in the most loving relationship there are ups and downs, joys and disappointments. When the person dies, however suddenly, any negative feeling can cause shame. It is important to recognize and to help children understand these mixed feelings are a normal part of any close relationship.

Once the negative feelings are acknowledged sometimes people start to question whether they loved the person at all. These are the remnants of a painful sense of shame. It is helpful to remind the adult or child of all the ways they showed love towards the deceased so they can regain perspective.

Letting Go and Moving On

Letting go involves letting go of the physical presence of the departed loved one in their daily lives. It also means letting go gradually of the hopes and dreams they may have shared for the future. This latter step can be especially painful and takes a long time.

ChildrenandgriefMoving on then requires that you accept there is no longer the physical presence of the loved one in your life. One of the most important things to convey to children is, “As a family we will get through this together.”

It is important to stress to a child what you keep after a death. All the wonderful memories of good times together, the influence, the love, the values and lessons you learned from the loved one are to be cherished. It is a gift to you that can never be taken away.