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Provo City School District

Sunset View Elementary School

Each week we will be sharing a tip from our school psychologist, Mrs. Rollins.

This week we are talking about – Helping Children Navigate Grief

Depending on their age, children respond differently to grief. The best response to a child of any age is to be patient, ready to listen, and answer questions honestly and compassionately. Below are ideas about how age groups react differently and how to help them grieve.

Preschool and early school-aged children often do not understand death so they tend to ask a lot of questions. They may go play and then come back and ask a question. Answer questions even if the answer is “I don’t know.” Give them a choice to go to a funeral or not. Sometimes they may wet the bed, need more help with normal tasks, or want more hugs or attention than usual.

In contrast, Preteens and Teenagers understand the basic concepts of death and can feel the emotions similar to adults. While the preteen may be more open with their emotions, teens might try to pretend they are ok. Both may lash out or find reasons to blame events on themselves even if they had nothing to do with the death or events leading up to it.

Ideas to help with grief:

  • Rituals and customs: funerals, scattering ashes in a special or sacred place, celebrations of life/memorial services all help us to confront the reality of loss and try to make sense of what has happened.
  • Express your grief: journaling or a one writing session expressing whole story can be helpful. It could also be a letter to the lost loved one or a session talking to a grief counselor. All these things help in gaining perspective and working through the experience as a whole.
  • Make a memory box: it can be helpful to collect meaningful items, belongings or photos the remind us of a lost loved one. Put it in a special place to review often or set a specific time to bring out the box. For younger children, you can take clothes of the loved one and have it made into a memory item like a toy or bear for the child to keep.
  • Parts of Grief: Contrasting emotions like sadness and anger or relief and guilt could both happen and be confusing for your child. Our usual instinct is to suppress emotions, but this can lead to emotions spilling over at unexpected times. Help children to realize that all emotions are ok. Be compassionate as you try to decide together what to do about each emotion.
  • Regret and guilt: these are common emotions to feel when grieving. Your child may be stuck in a loop of negative thoughts about trivial events that feel different when the person is gone. Writing down regrets and reviewing them with a family member/friend can help. Viewing regrets from the perspective of the person who died can help them move on.

Psychology Today has written articles on both tips for parents navigating grief and loss and grief and loss bereavement if those are of interest to you. 

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