How to Help Children Grieve: Advice From a Grief Counselor

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Here’s what you need to know about reaching out to children who’ve experienced loss—from a grief counselor.

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“Mommy, I want to arrest God for taking Daddy!” Words like this are expressed by children daily. Every year roughly 2.3 million people die in the United States; 16,000 are children. Even more children are touched by the loss of significant loved ones in their lives—parents, grandparents, teachers, even friends.

The harsh reality is that, sooner or later, you’ll have to deal with children and grief. The statistics don’t play favorites. Generally, I’ve found that children can be overlooked in the course of bereavement. Usually, it’s unintentional; the adults may just be caught up in their own grieving process. However, if adults are supportive of children during this time, the children will usually experience a healthy grieving process. I’ve worked as a grief counselor for over eight years. During that time, I’ve discovered helpful tips for working with grieving children.

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CHILDREN’S NEEDS

Depending on where children are developmentally, they’ll experience grief differently. It’s almost as if they’re wearing different “grieving lenses.” For example, preschool children realize the loss of the loved one in the sense that the loved one has gone away and isn’t coming back. They’re also influenced by the adult’s explanation of what happened.

Sometimes preschoolers view death as magic, hoping that one day the person will reappear. On the other hand, a young school-age child knows that death is permanent and fears it. An older school-age child who experiences the death of a loved one will acknowledge the importance of it and will look for ways to deal with the grief constructively or destructively.

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Children's Ministry Magazine

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