How to Help Children Cope with the Death of a Loved One

Recently, I lost my 93 year old grandfather. I was with him during his final days, and it was a very emotional experience for me. My children were also very close to him, and they definitely grieved the loss with me. At the time, I was very unsure how much to expose my boys to. I learned a lot, and today I am sharing advice I received and things I learned about how to help children cope with the death of someone they loved.

1) Let the Kids Be Your Guide - You know your children best, so you are the best judge of what they can/ can't handle. Let them know that whatever they feel/ want to do is OK. Every person grieves differently, so children should be able to attend/not attend events if that is how they feel. Trust your mommy instincts!

2) Ask the Experts - Ask parents that have gone through it, read books, and consult child psychologists/experts. The more information you can collect, the better prepared you will be to meet the needs of your child.

3) Set the Stage - Tell children what they can expect to see/ hear during this difficult time. Fear of the unknown is big for kids. Also, warn them how sad everyone is going to be, and let them know it is OK. It can be scary for children to see their loved ones upset (especially if this is not their normal experience).

4) Focus on the Positive - Teach children that families and friends come together in times of sadness to support each other. This is a very comforting and reassuring lesson.

5) Involve Them - "Doing things" helps prevent children from feeling powerless. At my grandfather's funeral, my oldest son wrote (and read) a tribute to his great grandfather, and all my boys sang a hymn. Younger children can pass out programs, draw pictures, or make photo collages. Little things mean a lot to kids, and participating will allow them to feel like they are a part of the activities of remembrance. 

6) Watch Them Closely - Let children do/participate as they are comfortable, but watch them closely. If they appear to be afraid or overwhelmed, have someone ready to remove them from the situation. Be aware of the "tough moments" and adjust accordingly. Final goodbyes by those closest to the deceased, open caskets, and burials can be tough. It may make sense to shelter them from things that might be beyond their comfort level.

7) Keep Talking - Keep an open dialogue, and answer all your children's questions honestly. Sharing your faith and stories of remembrance is helpful and comforting too. Sometimes reading a book together can be a good way to open a dialogue. The Invisible String is a great book for younger childen. (Note: This is an affiliate link. If you purchase this book with this link, it won't cost you any more, but I will make a few sense from your purchase.)

Death is a sad (but natural) part of life, so allowing children to learn to grieve can be very helpful. Have you had to deal with the loss of a loved one? What did you find helpful? I'm not an expert (just a mom who has gone through it), so any advice you can share in the comment thread is appreciated.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)


  1. My daughter was 4.5 yrs old when my Dad suddenly passed away. We live 2.5 hrs away, and had rushed to the hospital, but he was unconscious when we arrived and died the next morning. I didn't want her in the hospital when we weren't sure what was going on, but we told her that he was very sick and the Drs were trying their best to help him. When he took a sudden tturn and was dying the next morning, I called my Mom and my husband and daughter were there too. I told them all that Dad would likely pass before they could return to the hospital, but they could all come see him to say goodbye. We brought her in for a minute, showed her the body, explained a bit, said a prayer together and allowed her to give him a last hug, kiss and say goodbye. She attended the wake and funeral, but we had ensured other kids would be around too. She helped with the prep a bit, but during the week she went home to school to maintain normalcy. She wore Dollar Store angel (actually butterfly!) wings for the funeral service and it was a perfect way for her to be included at her level, make her feel special, etc. She is a mature girl, and we still speak of Grampy and death in general. SOme questions are tougher than others, but encouraging a dialogue is key. Exposing them to some emotion is ok too. She has seen me cry (I don't hysterically weep though). We pay tribute to Dad in many ways. Jan 2018 will mark the 1 year anniversary and we will no doubt do something special as a whole family.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I love that you included her by letting her wear an angel pin. I do believe that being included makes kids feel less powerless and scared. I'm sorry for your loss, but I love that you talk about your Dad and continue to remember him. I think that remembering our loved ones is the best tribute we can pay them. Take care!

  2. My Dad had been sick for a couple of years and passed away a few months ago. I had purchased 2 books for my 4 and 5 year old daughters that I felt were helpful for them. One was called The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and the other was called The Next Place by Warren Hanson. Both books were age appropriate for younger kids and I think the books allowed them to feel more comfortable when speaking or asking questions about death.

    1. So sorry for your loss. I will definitely check out the books. Thanks so much!


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