(Adapted from material presented by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Founder and Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado. He is a respected grief counselor and author, known throughout the world for his compassionate messages of hope and healing in grief. Visit his website at: http://www.centerforloss.com).
How adults respond when a loved one dies has a major effect on the way children react to death. Sometimes parents don’t want to talk about death and assume this will spare children some of the pain and sadness. The reality is that children will grieve anyway. To help them through grief, parents or other adult caregivers need to establish a relationship in which the death may be talked about openly. Children need to understand that grief is a natural feeling when someone they love has died.
Children also need confirmation from adults that it is all right to be sad and to cry, and that the hurt they feel won’t last forever. When ignored, children may suffer more from feeling isolated than from the death itself.
The first step in establishing a help-healing relationship is to listen carefully to what children are saying. Allow them to do the teaching; you provide the support, love, and understanding they need. As children express their feelings, adults need to respond with warmth and sensitivity.
Be aware of tone of voice and body language
Maintain eye contact
Assure them their feelings will be accepted
Listen without judging or criticizing