Children & Grief

  1. Your children sometimes need permission to mourn as they begin to grieve.  Widows need to continue their daily routine as much as possible in an effort to allow this to happen.
  2. Notice if your children are using avoidance or defenses for too long related to their Father’s death.  These can manifest themselves in many ways, like changes in their eating patterns or psychosomatic problems like an increase in reports of headaches, stomachaches, other physical symptoms.  They may show their grief by having difficulty wanting to go to school or concentrating on their homework.  Some children may have temporary regression from otherwise normal behavior like bed wetting or wanting to sleep in the same bedroom with you or their siblings.  Still others may complain of having nightmares or sleep disorders such as being unable to get to sleep, or they may need a night light on in their bedroom.
  3. Have your child describe their Father’s death.  This is like a “debriefing exercise” to discuss the specifics and begins the process of getting the information out and moving in their grief process.  If the death was due to an accident or even due to a brief or prolonged illness, have them include what they did, heard, saw, smelled, etc.  What was the first thing they remembered, if they were at the scene or when they saw or heard about it, if it was something reported on television?  What mental pictures about the death do they remember most?  What feelings did they first experience?  What are they feeling now?  What are they worried about or afraid of the most?
  4. Encourage your children to talk, and talk, and talk about their Father’s death.  Help them to understand that the intensity of their grief will lessen over time.  Not talking about his death and their experience does not help them learn to cope with their loss.
  5. Continually express your unconditional love and acceptance, and be available personally for them.  Provide affection, security, support, concern, and acceptance by appropriate physical touch.
  6. Look for ways to help your children express their feelings both verbally and non-verbally.  Some prefer to talk, others like to draw or paint, while others write letters to their dad.  Help them make commemorative memorials in honor of their Father.
  7. Have them journal their feelings.  Help them look up comforting Scriptures to give them assurance from God’s Word about His promises.
  8. Work on listening.  Communicating with children and adolescents can be difficult when you are in the midst of your own grief.  Do your best to listen and be present without telling your children what to do.  If you have a hard time listening objectively, find someone who can validate and encourage them.
  9. When discussing death with your children, your explanations should be simple and direct.  Each child should be told the truth using as much detail as he or she is able to understand.  Give honest and direct replies to their questions.  Keep in perspective the developmental capabilities of each of your children and their age-related concerns at the time of your husband’s death.
  10. Any discussion about death should include the proper words, such as “car accident, died, and death.”  Substitute words or phrases (for example, “he passed away,” “he is sleeping”, “we lost him,” or “the angels took him away”) should not be used because they can confuse children and lead to misunderstandings.
  11. Educate your children that loss and death are likely to bring about intense feelings that are important to deal with and that you’ll be there to help them through these.
  12. Try to help structure your child’s grief into steps similar to your own, so your child is less likely to become overwhelmed.
  13. Reading age-related children’s books on the death of a parent can be helpful in bringing understanding.
  14. Observe your child’s casual conversation for any personal wishes or actions regarding Dad’s death.  They may have had an argument right before his death.  Discourage “magical thinking” such as “I caused his death,” or “Daddy is still alive and will be coming home soon.”
  15. Children need to be reassured about their own security (they often worry that they will die or that you, as Mom, also will go away).  Children’s questions should be answered, making sure that your child understands the answers.  Ask them to repeat what you have said to them.
  16. Your child’s environment should stay the same – this is not the time for a new school, a new house, or even a new babysitter.
  17. When you sense your child’s readiness to grieve, it is okay to pray together, cry together, and reminisce together.
  18. Depending on the age, your child’s ability to remember their Father may be limited.  It is important to have family pictures displayed and, if possible, a picture with your child and Dad displayed somewhere in the home.  They may even want a picture of him in their room.
  19. Be aware that your child will often need continual explanation of and communication about the death over an extended time.  Like you, they will want opportunity to talk about him.  We recommend taking the child with you when you chose to visit the cemetery.
  20. Recognize that your child is expressing feelings not only about the actual death itself, but also about the changes of you as Mom and the whole family dynamic.  Watch for any instability of family life after the loss and get some professional help if it persists.
  21. Observe your child’s behavior for indications of how they are coping overall.
  22. Do not try to compare your child’s grief to yours as an adult and as their Mother.
  23. Any changes in family responsibilities need to be appropriate for your child’s age.
  24. Encourage your children to talk with their friends as they feel comfortable.
  25. Recognize that your child, like you, will also likely need some time alone for healing.
  26. With sudden death, it is important to provide a place for your children to say good-bye in order to complete “unfinished business” with Dad to decrease the likelihood of unresolved grief.  Beware of any suicidal hints or survivor’s guilt from your children such as “Why was Dad killed and my life spared?”  If this happens seek some professional help for you and your child.


Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010