Teaching Your Child How to Grieve

It’s inescapable. A beloved grandparent or uncle will pass away. Your child won’t understand how a gunman can kill toddlers in a day care center.

In an issue of the Child Mind Institute newsletter, Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz wrote, “When tragedy strikes, as parents you find yourself doubly challenged: to process your own feelings of grief and distress, and to help your children do the same.”

If you approach the situation carefully, you can help them feel better and safer and learn lifelong coping skills.

Among Koplewicz recommendations:

  • Break the news quickly, and do it yourself. Don’t take the chance that your child will hear it on the playground.
  • Take your cues from your child. Invite her or him to tell or ask you about the situation. S/he will tell you how s/he feels; don’t guess.
  • Model calmness. It’s okay to let your child know if you’re sad, but don’t be overly emotional. That’s the lesson he or she will absorb, not your words.
  • Be reassuring. Reassure your child why whatever happened is unlikely to happen to him or her (e.g. natural disasters are beyond our control, but rare) and/or what you and others plan to do to keep them safe.
  • Be available. Just spending time together may make your child feel safer. Doing ordinary things together as a family may be the most effective form of healing.

The Child Mind Institute offers a free guide that offers more tips to help different age groups grieve.

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