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Helping Your Child Handle the Loss of a Loved One

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When a member of your family passes away suddenly, the shock and sadness you feel can be overwhelming. And when you have young, elementary-school-age children, you may not know how to handle the situation to make it easier and more manageable for them. All you do know is that you want to make the loss of their loved one from being needlessly painful and confusing. Get to know a few things that you can do to help your child handle the loss of a loved one. Then, you can be sure that you are doing the best you can to care for your child during this difficult time. 

Use Clear, Concrete Terms and Be Honest

Young children can sometimes have difficulty understanding subtext or turns of phrase that dance around a situation. This means that when you tell them that their loved one has passed away, you should not use phrases like "gone away" or "is in another place." Such phrases can make your child think that their loved one has gone on a trip or vacation and will come back at some point.

Because your child could easily confuse abstract statements, stay literal when you talk to your child about the death of their loved one. Be prepared to answer questions and try to be as honest as possible.

This can be especially difficult if your loved one passed on due to a violent crime or suicide. These are difficult concepts to explain to your young child. However, you do not want your child to find out the truth from someone else or find out later in life that you lied to them. So, be as honest as possible without further traumatizing your child. 

Take Your Child to a Psychologist for Grief Counseling

While some people worry about taking their child to a child psychologist for reasons of possible stigma, the reality is a child psychologist can easily help you and your child better get through the grieving process. You may think that talking to your child yourself will be sufficient to get them through this difficult situation.  

However, even when children are young, they sometimes hold back their feelings from their parents. They also may not know how to express their thoughts and feelings about their loss. A child psychologist can serve as a non-parental person to talk to for you child so that they can be upfront and honest. The therapist will also be able to help your child to identify and express their emotions so that they do not boil over, causing your child to act out in school, become depressed, or have other behavioral or mental health issues. 

Now that you have an idea of what to do to help your child handle the loss of a loved one, you have the tools you need to make this difficult situation as easy as possible for your child. So, be sure to be honest with your child and provide them with the necessary assistance, such as a professional like Paula Conforti, D.C.S., C.Psych. Assoc., in the grieving process.