Adults can help children cope with their grief

Published 4:50 pm Saturday, March 14, 2015

QUESTION: How can I help my pre-schooler understand grief?

ANSWER: Children learn to understand the emotions they and other people are feeling from adults they live with.

Helpful parents provide “emotional coaching” for their children at the teachable moments that life brings. Sadness is the primary emotion of grief.

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When my son was four years old, a close family friend in his 80s died. My husband decided it was an appropriate time to help our son experience the death of someone he knew and liked, so he took him to the viewal at church, prior to the funeral service.

He held our four year old in his arms and allowed him to see “Grandpa Earl’s” body in the beautiful casket, explaining that Grandpa Earl was no longer in his body, but our bodies are very important to us when we are on earth, so we often put the bodies in a special “treasure box” when we are done with them to honor them and keep them safe.

He shared that we believed that God had given Grandpa Earl a new body he was very happy with. Our four year listened intently and then looked around at the family and friends who were gathering, several who were weeping. He asked insightfully, why, if Grandpa Earl was happy, were people crying? His father explained that while Grandpa Earl was safe, his family and friends were feeling sad that they would be physically separated from him for awhile. Our four year old quietly looked at the people around him and then said softly, “I feel a little sad, too.”

Another child watched her mother cry when she received the news of the death of a good friend’s mother. When her mom left for the funeral service, her five year old brought her mom her own favorite blanket that she slept with to take with her – an example of another youngster who was learning to understand the sadness of grief and how to be helpful.

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528.