Coping with Grief and Loss

  • For most children, death is a new experience. And like all new experiences, the unknown can be confusing and frightening. Most children do not know what to expect following the loss of a family member or friend. Young children may not understand what death really means and may be confused or even frightened by the reactions of other family members. In the case of traumatic death, the confusion and fear are even greater.

    For adults, death is more familiar and the grieving process is something many adults know firsthand. Most adults have experienced the range of feelings that often come with traumatic loss – anger, confusion and sadness, and have learned ways to cope with loss. This may not be the case for children, particularly young children.

    At the same time, children will seek answers and comfort from their caregivers and other adults in their lives. Yet in the face of traumatic death, adults often feel helpless in this role. While adults cannot have answers to all the questions that children may have about death, they can help children better understand the grieving process. Children and teenagers at each developmental stage may think and feel different things when grieving. As a result, their behavior may be different, too. Here are some things to keep in mind when helping children deal with loss:

  • Ways to help students deal with the grieving process:

    1. Offer opportunities to talk about death and loss as they experience it in everyday life.
    2. Include youth in rituals whenever possible and appropriate.
    3. Share your expressions of sadness and pain.
    4. Be available to listen.
    5. Pay attention to a youth’s behavior and let them know when you notice a change.
    6. Answer all questions about death and loss as honestly as possible.
    7. Be willing to wonder and explore answers to their questions.
    8. Face your own feelings of grief.
    9. Do not isolate or insulate young people from grief. Remember grief is normal.
    10. Continue to expect a young person to function. Be firm, yet gentle and kind.
    11. Find help for youth who need it. Refer to support groups or counseling as needed.
    12. Continue to be available over time. Remember grief will be revisited throughout their lives. Reach out and continue to care, just as you are now!

    Remember to call your school counselor, social worker, or school psychologist if you have questions or need more support!

    *Adapted from the TIG Consortium