Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How to help a grieving child

I wanted to share a great handout by Child Grief on words that can help or hurt a grieving child.  Too often people assume that young children are not as affected by death and loss and they are overlooked.  It's important to recognize that even young children are affected by death and loss even if they can't fully understand the permanence of loss,  children just handle and manifest their grief in a different manner than adults.  


Offering support to a grieving child can begin with a simple statement or open-ended question. Here are some
conversation starters:
• I’m sorry your mom/dad/sister died.
• What was your dad/mom/brother like?
• Tell me about your__________.
• What was his favorite food?
• What do you miss the most?
• What is the hardest part for you?
• What is the hardest time of day for you?
• I cannot know how you feel, but I remember how I felt when my __________ died.
• I care about you.
• I care about how you are feeling.
• Is there anything I can do in the classroom to help?
• Is there anything in the classroom you would like to change to feel more comfortable?
• Would you like to talk about it?
• I’m available at this time, if you would like to come by to talk.
• Whenever you want to talk about it, I’m here for you.
• I’m thinking about you especially today because I’m aware that today is your mother’s birthday (anniversary of
the death, your birthday, etc).
• I’m here to listen if you want to talk, or just spend time together if you don’t want to talk.
• When is your recital (game, rehearsal, etc.)? Would it be okay if I stop by?

The following are a few of the potentially harmful comments that are often offered to children grieving the loss of a
• I know just how you feel.
• I know just how you feel…my dog died last year.
• Lick your wounds and move on.
• You’ll get over it.
• It will be okay.
• Don’t think about it.
• You are better off without him.
• Don’t cry.
• It’s your fault.
• You drove your father to drink.
• If only you had ___________________.
• Tears won’t bring her back.
• Be strong.
• Forget about it.
• You are the man/woman of the house now.
• You  should feel….(proud, relieved, happy, sad, etc.)

 Mary M. Lyles, MSW, LCSW


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