Parents, you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

Or just as likely, we’ve got questions and you’ve got answers.

Challenge: Open Discussion

How To Talk To Your Child About Grief

Vote up!
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Email this article

No one should have to experience the pain of grief and the loss of a loved one, but it’s nonetheless an important part of life that each individual must learn to confront at one point or another. Despite the fact that they may be dreading it, wise parents understand that they’ll eventually need to talk to their children about death, grief, and the general sadness that they may sometimes encounter in life. Understanding the importance of talking with your child about grief and knowing how to do it are completely different things, however, and many parents don’t know where to begin.

Here are the tips you should follow when it comes to talking to your child about grief, and the topics that such a conservation are likely to revolve around.

Understand that grief is a part of life

Many parents want to protect their children from sadness and grief at all costs, and thus refuse to address the subject at all. It’s a simple matter of fact that grief is an important aspect of life, however, and that this isn’t something that can be brushed under the rug. Despite how difficult it may be for you, you owe it to your child to teach them about life’s difficulties alongside of its pleasures. Just remember to start small, and not to leap into too deep of a conversation too quickly, and you’ll do fine when it comes to explaining grief.

Funerals, for instance, are events that are virtually unavoidable for most, and your child may inevitably lose a grandparent or a loved one to an accident. How, then, should you respond? First and foremost, you should never lie to your kids – acting as if a deceased loved one is only temporarily gone, for instance, is a surefire way to destroy your child’s trust in you. You should always be open and honest, explaining who passed away and why (though you can spare them the specific details of death). Furthermore, you should consider allowing your child to attend the funeral, especially if it’s someone who was important to them.

Bringing your kids to a funeral is a tough gig, but one that helps them understand the importance of certain rituals surrounding grief. Remind them that funerals are solemn occasions, yes, but that they’re also celebrations of the life of the now-deceased. Take some time to read up on how to prepare your child to attend a funeral if you’re particularly concerned about how they might cope in such an environment.

When talking about grief, especially sorrow surrounding the death of a loved one, let your child know what to expect. They should be well-behaved, but remind them that it’s okay to cry and be sad. Many parents are worried that they shouldn’t be crying around their kids to “set a bad example,” but allowing yourself to feel and express grief is an important part of showing them that it’s acceptable to do both of these things. You should also be aware of the fact that kids grieve differently; your son may react differently than your daughter, or your youngest differently from your oldest, and that’s okay.

Remind them of the positive side of grief

It may sound strange at first, but there are positive sides of grief. The brevity of life is what makes the loss of it so tragic, but the fact that life is limited is also another reason to enjoy it all the more, and to cherish the good things that you have. This is an important lesson to instill in your children, who may feel lost, especially if they’ve lost a senior figure like a grandmother or grandfather. Keep mementos, photos, and videos of your loved ones to show your children later, too, as a way of helping them keep their own happy memories alive.

Of course, it’s also imperative for parents to remember that talking to your child about grief isn’t a one-off event. Your son or daughter may experience multiple traumas throughout life; many children lose multiple grandparents in the same year, for instance. Remember that allowing your children to express their sorrow is a continuous process that doesn’t end once the funeral does. It’s also vitally important that you check in on your children down the line to guarantee that they’re doing well.

Learn to recognize signs of depression, for instance, and you’ll be better equipped to help your beloved son or daughter if they’re struggling with grief for a long time. Above all else, remind them constantly that you’re there for them, and that they’re not alone in experiencing sorrow. Death can be scary, but it’s a part of life that everyone must face. Teach your children to remember the fond memories of those they’ve lost and to express themselves openly, and you’ll soon be helping them deal with their grief in a healthier way.

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.