Helping children process grief

Psychotherapist Amy Luster, MA, MFT, shares advice for parents on the best methods for helping your child cope with grief after the loss of a loved one depending on their age
How to Help Children Cope with Grief
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Helping children process grief

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The best way to support a child who is coming to terms with the loss of a parent or a sibling will so much depend on the developmental stage of the child. Whatever their age, frequent conversations about the death are better than one long, detailed conversation. Use simple, concrete terms. Here’s some specifics based on your child’s age – if it’s a toddler, know that they understand the concept of something being all gone, and yet, they do expect that it will return. So they might ask repeatedly when their loved one will be coming back. Be as patient as possible and you will need to explain several times, many, many times. For a preschooler, they’ve come to understand that their loved ones will come back after a separation, so death disrupts this process. You might very likely see clingy or needy behavior. For elementary school children, they tend to feel the stigma of being set apart from their peers in having had this loss. Let them know what they should expect; all sorts of feelings will be coming and going – feeling fearful, angry, sad, confused – are all normal. Help them by going and talking to their teacher in person and let them know what they can be expecting in the days and years ahead. We’ll need to talk to their teacher next year and the year after as they come to terms with this loss. Teenagers, often we think, that they need less than a parent who’s grieving or a young child, but they need just as much support. They might find benefit from hanging out with their peers, through listening to music, writing about what’s happened, using art. Encourage them to express their feelings and revisit it frequently. And be as patient as possible with your child as well as yourself during this time.

Psychotherapist Amy Luster, MA, MFT, shares advice for parents on the best methods for helping your child cope with grief after the loss of a loved one depending on their age

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Amy Luster, MA, MFT

Psychotherapist

Amy Luster, MA, is a psychotherapist and author. She holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and provides psychotherapy to individuals, couples, and families. She runs a group entitled, Parenting After a Loss which offers support, guidance, and education. Her emphasis is on assisting parents who have experienced a child-bearing loss whether from ongoing infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a baby. Her goal is to help families function in a healthy, satisfying way despite their past loss. Amy, her husband and their four children live in Santa Monica, CA. 

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