How to Help Children Process Death - Heart 'n Home Hospice & Palliative Care, LLC

How to Help Children Process Death

Childhood is filled with events that mold and shape us. Sometimes things happen that children don’t comprehend. Today is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day and we want to bring light to children’s grief awareness by sharing a few stories from a few of our staff as well as offer tips for addressing children’s grief.


The Little Boy Who Didn’t Come Back To School

“Growing up I had a great group of friends and we often had slumber parties on the weekends.    One weekend we stayed at my friend’s house and all of us decided to dress her little brother up as a girl. We put a dress on him, put makeup on him, did his hair and put perfume on him.  Boy, did we get in trouble, whew!  We all got sent home and did not get to have another party at her house.

Not long after that, my friend didn’t come to school.   My parents told me her little brother had died.  All I could think of was that I had killed him with the makeup and the perfume!  This happened when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  We never talked about it again.

Today, I am 48.  About 6 months ago, my husband and I were talking and he shared a story about his friend who died when he was little.  To my surprise, it was that same little boy.  I started crying and instantly felt sick. The thoughts and fears that I had as a child came flooding back. The guilt that I was harboring broke loose through my tears. My husband asked me what was wrong and I told him how we had killed his friend and I felt so awful.  He hugged me and laughed and said I was wrong – his friend had died from a bad heart. Unfortunately, he had heart surgery and didn’t make it through.”  Denise shares.


I Was Afraid to Ask My Friend How She Was Doing, I Didn’t Know if it Was Okay

“When I was very young, maybe 4 or 5, I had an experience that haunted my dreams for most of my childhood. One afternoon my sister and I were playing on our couch near our big living room window.  Playing and giggling like two little girls do when all of a sudden we started hearing loud bangs and yelling outside.  We lived in a neighborhood, but this wasn’t the normal neighborhood noise.  I didn’t know it at the time, but these were gunshots.  My mother, in a panic, screamed for me to grab my sister and lay on the floor.  I remember laying in silence on that long brown shag carpet with my sister and watching my mother in the kitchen on the phone. I watched her call our neighbor who was the local police chief and plead for him to hurry. Our neighbor had a gun.  The shots continued for a few minutes then stopped.

At that moment, when the shots stopped, my dear friend’s mother lost her life. I was so young and I didn’t understand what was going on, yet this scene would play over and over in my mind and in my dreams for about 12 years.  To this day I remember the reoccurring nightmare that I had as a child.  It was always the same and always ended the same.

Luckily, I went on to have a beautiful childhood. My family and friends helped fill my childhood with wonderful memories. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood.  The good memories far outweighed the bad, yet this one incident was trapped inside and would repeatedly sneak into my thoughts. I wondered how a person could do such a thing. Most importantly, I desperately wanted to ask my best friend how she was coping with the loss of her mother, but we never talked about things like that. I didn’t know if talking about it would bring sad feelings to the surface. Nor did I want to hurt her, but I longed to know how she was doing. I longed to let my feelings out. It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I got the nerve up to talk to my friend.  The relief that that conversation brought was profound.” RaChelle shares.


Reading these stories you can understand the importance of assuring that children get the information they need to be able to process events that happen in their lives.  Often times, a child’s fantasies and fears are worse than the reality of what happened.  It is important to:

– Use truthful and clear information to explain the cause of death.  It is important to use simple language, be honest, and let the child lead with questions they have.
– Acknowledge and validate feelings.  Let them know others have felt (mad, sad, happy, afraid, lonely, etc) the same feelings after someone close died.
– Reassure them they are not to blame.
– Address any fears and anxieties.
– Give children and teens a chance to talk about what they experienced.  In addition, you can allow them to share a fun or positive experience and remember it whenever they need it.

If you want to learn more about dealing with children’s grief visit or contact a Care Navigator at Heart ‘n Home.

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