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Helping Children Navigate Grief

Updated: May 23, 2021

Death is shared human experience.

The way we grieve death has been significantly shaped by the way we watched our parents (or other important adults in our lives) grieve when we were children. Sadly, many older adults (including yours truly) grew up in a culture where talking about death or showing signs of grief when someone, or something, we loved died was discouraged. IF death and loss was discussed it was likely in hushed tones and secluded rooms away from the children.

In US culture most men and boys are still NOT encouraged to show the emotions of grieving but are rather expected to just get stuff done. We are given tasks to do. Women and girls are expected to be more emotionally expressive and be taken care of by the task-oriented men in their lives. Thankfully, this is shifting as our younger generation of adults are less constrained by the social norms of previous generations. Expressing loss over the death of anyone, and everything, close to us is becoming much more acceptable now than it was just a few decades ago.

Children of all ages take their grieving cues from the adults in their lives, We parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and significant adults would do well to reflect on how death was handled in our homes when we were children and how we'd like to handle it now that we have children or grandchildren that we relate to. Here are some questions to help with your reflection:

  1. How was the subject of death treated in your home when you were a child?

  2. What most interested or puzzled you about death when you were a child?

  3. Do you remember the death of a pet at sometime in your childhood? What were the circumstances? How did you feel about it? How did other people respond to your feelings?

  4. Do you remember the death of a person at some time in your childhood? How did you feel about it? How did other people respond to your feelings?

  5. What do you think are the best (and worst) things a person could say to a child in a death situation?

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