Overcoming Loss & Grief – Tips And Rituals For Adults And Kids

Kids grieve as painfully as adults, but they may not express it in the same way. The age of a child at the time of loss determines to a large extent how the child will be affected by death, but there are certain concepts that apply no matter what age.

Honesty is a key factor in approaching the subject of death with a child. Rather than sheltering a child from reality, it should be filtered to his or her degree of understanding. A child should be told of the death of a loved one simply and gently in a language he or she can understand. Telling children what they will later have to unlearn is not to their benefit. Euphemisms – such as a person “went away,” or “is asleep” – serve only to confuse or even frighten them, as they might even consider it their fault and feel guilty, which may lead to deep trauma. Questions should be accepted and answered honestly. Kids will look to adults for models to follow in grieving. Being honest with one’s own grief when talking with children is a gift to them. It gives them permission to grieve also.

Emotion is natural. Grief and deep sadness are normal reactions to loss, necessary for healing. Emotions must be expressed. A child who has experienced a tragedy, and becomes silent and passive, is NOT “taking it well.” This is a time for tears. Better to say to a child, “I could cry too,” rather than “You mustn’t cry.” Kids, like adults, react differently to sorrow and their individuality should be respected.

Adults need to be aware that grief in children is often complicated by unspoken fears. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross writes that: “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion to death,” and children often suffer deep guilt when a loved one dies. They believe in the power of magic, that wishes come true and bad deeds are punished. They may need to be reassured that nothing they did, said, or wished caused the loved one to die. The death of a loved one is NOT retribution for their wrong-doing.

A basic need for kids is security. This is particularly true during grief. Children need to go through their daily routines to assure themselves that things will go on. Their wish to resume play activities should not be interpreted as a lack of feeling. They are part of the child’s routine and the healing vehicle (Expressive Arts Therapy) through which growth is achieved and feelings worked through.

Assurance of continuing relationships with other family members and friends also adds to a child’s sense of security. Kids and adults can work through grief together. This affirms the existing relationships. If the child knows the adults in his or her life have similar feelings of loss, are willing to share them as well as listen, and can acknowledge that it’s hard for them too – communication lines can remain open. The child will feel included and safe in the relationship. And, let’s not overlook the obvious – a hug is the easiest non-verbal way of conveying a sense of acceptance and security.

No matter how tragic a loss may seem, in the words of author Eda LeShan in Learning to Say Goodbye, “A child can live through anything so long as he or she is told the truth and is allowed to share with loved ones the natural feelings people have when they are suffering.”

So What Can You Do? How about Celebrations of Life, Creating a Memory Book or other Healing Grief Rituals?

While the grief process kids go through is affected by their age or stage of development, there are similarities between a child’s grief and the adult’s mourning process.

The following suggestions may be helpful in supporting a kid’s grief process:
  • Set aside time to talk with your child – explain the events that are occurring, why you are crying, etc.
  • Use basic words like “die” and “dead” to convey the message.
  • Use the deceased person’s name when referring to him/her.
  • Avoid the phrases that “soften the blow”. Phrases such as “sleeping,” “went on a vacation,” “God took them,” or “God needed them more than we did.” only scare and confuse a child.
  • You need to have an understanding of your own grieving process – since these things are communicated to the child.
  • Read, or have your child read, kid’s books related to death and discuss them with your child.
  • Read books yourself on helping a child through grief.
  • Be sensitive to the age of your child, and his/her level of understanding – don’t offer information beyond the child’s comprehension – it will only confuse things.
  • Let your child ask questions, and answer truthfully! Be honest, simple, and direct. If you don’t understand something, let your child know that too.
  • Play with your child (eg dolls, drawing, imaging) in ways that will allow the child to express his/her feelings..
  • Share your feelings with the child if he/she is able to understand them.
  • Allow your child to participate if he/she wants to – like going to the funeral, or visiting the cemetery. However, it is crucial that you don’t pressure your child into doing any of these things.
  • You are a role model for your children – if you hide your grief, they will learn to hide it too.
  • Let your child vent his/her emotions and acknowledge them – crying, hugging, letter writing, shredding old phone books.
  • Watch for signs that your child is having adjustment issues – eating and/or sleep disorders over a long period of time, bed-wetting, irritability, etc
  • Seek counseling if you have concerns – remember, you know your child best.
  • Remember, kids have the same feelings we do, but a different level of understanding.
  • Talk to your child about how you appreciated having the deceased person in your life.


On the left, you can see the memory tree I created for the cats I lost over the years.

Many people think, that the death of an animal cannot be compared to the loss of human life.

I had disabled clients who were wheelchair-bound and alone and thought of committing suicide after their beloved pet had died.

I had a client who was sexually abused by her father and who told me that the only way she had survived was through the unconditional love of her animals.

We do NOT need to COMPARE deaths and losses. Remember, that what is a moderately traumatic experience to one person, can be devastating to another.

  • Help your child to recover and retain memories of the loved one. Photo albums, videos, and newspaper clippings will get you started.
  • Create a scrapbook or collage together with your child.
  • Plan some activities like a celebration of life, creating a memory garden, or planting a tree for the deceased.
  • Show your kids how other different cultures view death and dying.

And most important, give Kids Time!!

This is a little video I made to inspire some self-care tips for those of you who are grieving:

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Monika Lux

Monika's mission is to help people of all ages around the world to live their most extraordinary and fulfilling lives. Intuitive counseling and energy healing uses a combination of humanistic approaches combined with EFT Tapping, Expressive Arts Therapy, Narrative & Metaphorical Therapies, NLP and Systemic Constellations