Lately, we as parents have found ourselves in quite unfamiliar and scary territory in our parenting journey. This is the first time that our daughter (6) has experienced a death in the family while being mature enough to understand what death is.

Last week, her great grandfather sadly passed away and since telling her what had happened, we’ve noticed some extreme changes that have lead us to believe she isn’t coping with these new emotions as well as we thought she would.

Now that we are in the process of helping her work through this grief, I thought I would share our experience with other families who may need this advice in the future.

Signs your child isn’t coping

  • Trouble sleeping and sudden bedtime meltdowns
  • A sudden need for more attention from parents in either a positive or negative way
  • Unusual anger towards siblings or others
  • Asking other family member or friends concerning questions (things like “have you ever seen a dead person” etc)
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Anxiety and becoming “clingy”
  • Laughing or smiling at normally inappropriate times
  • Not being able to concentrate on one thing
  • Becoming confused about already answered questions regarding the death
  • The expressed feeling of guilt (“Is it because I didn’t give them a cuddle last time I saw them?” etc)
  • An intense worry about their parents dying or leaving while they are asleep
  • Some children may start drawing morbid pictures relating to death

It’s important to remember that your child will experience grief differently and that not all children will show all the signs listed above. Your child may also exhibit completely different signs to those above and that’s also okay. The main thing to watch for is changes in your child, only you will be able to determine the right ways to help them through this difficult time.

5 Ways to help a child through grief

  • Have your child sit down and draw pictures or write a letter to the loved one who has passed. Explain to them that you will go with them at the funeral to put the letters with the casket so they can go with them.
  • Create an emotions board for your child to help them recognise the emotions they’re feeling. Give them a diary or journal to write or draw in every time they experience a new emotion. Tell them to write down what they’re feeling and why they think they are feeling that way. Explain to them that any emotion they feel is normal, even anger, happiness and confused. Talk to your child and reassure them that you too are feeling all of these emotions so that they aren’t ashamed to feel the way they do.
  • Make a short story with your child about memories with their loved one. Have them draw the pictures to go with it and you can both read the story every day.
  • Let them choose a special photo of their loved one to print out and put in a frame beside their bed. Before bedtime, let them hold the photo and tell you about any memories they may have thought of that day. Even if the memories keep getting repeated, It’s good for your child to keep talking with you about it.
  • Do something special for your loved one. Things like a candlelit prayer or doing something together that they loved to do.
Helping a young child through grief

Above all, as a parent you need to be patient, answer questions honestly and age appropriate and keep talking to your child. Remember that we as adults take our own time to work through grief and deal with our emotions. So imagine what this new and scary emotion is like for a child who has never understood what it is until now.

Sometimes, grief in children can become more than something to work through with family. If you feel that your child may need more professional help to get through this then do not hesitate to contact your health care provider. They will refer you to someone who can benefit your child during this time. Also remember that kids can always talk to Kids Help Line for any reason at any time by dialling 1800 55 1800.