How to Talk to Kids About Grief

Posted on January 30, 2020 by Bevis Funeral Home under Children, Dealing with Loss, Funeral Etiquette, Grief Support
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Children cope with loss much differently than grown-ups do, but just like with adults, talking about it can help. Here are some tips for talking to your children about the loss of a loved one.

What Words to Use

It’s tempting to use words that soften the blow. But remember, some of those phrases can cause confusion. Your child may not understand words like “passed away,” and you should avoid other phrases like “went to sleep.” Even though it’s difficult, be direct and give children time to take in what you said. Here are some examples:

  • “I have some sad news. Uncle Joe died today.”
  • “Grandma’s heart was sick and she died.”
  • “Dad was in an accident at work. They took him to the hospital, but he was hurt too badly and he died.”

The National Alliance for Grieving Children says to talk to your children as soon as possible after the death, but to avoid giving them more information than they can handle at one time.

How to Give Comfort

Listen to your child, says, and give them comfort. Offer hugs and reassurances, and also talk about your own feelings. That can help kids be aware of their feelings and put words to their emotions. Try saying things such as:

  • “I know you’re sad about Uncle Joe. I’m sad, too. He loved us very much and we loved him, too.”
  • “No one can promise that they won’t die, but I expect us to be together for a long time.”

It’s also OK for kids to see you cry. Explain why you are crying and that sometimes, when you’re sad, you let your feelings out in this way. Children may feel a range of emotions — not just sad. These can include anger, sadness, hopelessness, disappointment, confusion and worry. Give children a way to safely express these emotions, maybe through drawing a picture, playing music or writing in a journal.

Talk About Funerals and Rituals

If you’ve determined the child is old enough to attend some or all of the memorial services (you can read more on making this determination here), talk to them about some of the things that are about to happen. You might have to explain about burial or cremation, and again, use simple, plain language. Try:

“After the funeral, there is a burial where Uncle Joe’s body is in a casket that gets buried in the ground during a ceremony. This can feel sad and some people might cry.”

The NAGC also suggests that, if children are attending the service, someone is designated to take them out for a break if it all becomes too much. It should be someone both you and your child trust.

Even if they won’t be attending a service, KidsHealth suggests talking with them about some of the things people may say as news of the death spreads. Give children proper responses for when people say “I’m sorry for your loss” or otherwise bring up the death to the child.

For more grief support resources, visit the Bevis Funeral Home online Grief Support Guide or call today at (850) 385-2193.

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