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Helping a Child Cope With the Loss of a Loved One

Oct 21, 2020 | Grief & Loss

Losing a loved one is hard for anyone, regardless of their age. However, the loss can be particularly devastating for a child as they struggle to understand what is happening or how to cope with it. For an adult, it can be challenging to explain things in a way that a child understands.

At WV Caring, we understand that the way children cope with loss is varied and unique to each child, and we are here to help with that journey. We offer the expertise and resources to help you and your children navigate this difficult time.

Keep reading to learn more about helping a child cope with the loss of a loved one.

Understand How a Child Views Death

Grieving is very personal and different for each child. Children will react differently to loss based on their age, developmental stage, personality, previous experiences with death and the type of support they receive during their grieving process. It is crucial to let children grieve healthily and not minimize their grief or tell them to “get over it.”

If you notice any of these behaviors, your child may be having a difficult time grieving:

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Regression to younger behaviors, such as separation anxiety
  • Talk about wanting to be with the deceased person
  • Lack of interest in playing with friends
  • Changes in grades or school behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities that once excited them

If additional support is needed, WV Caring offers bereavement and grief and loss support to those who have experienced a loss. This service is open to the community and is available by phone or in person at one of our offices.

Explain Death in Clear, Honest Terms

Typically, a child’s guardians will try to “shield” them from loss; however, we find that it is better when the child can discuss what is happening openly. This discussion should be based on their age and developmental level. Children may have difficulty understanding death, so they may repeatedly ask the same questions to make sense of the information being provided to them.

Consider these tips to help explain death and loss to a child:

  • Explain death using real words such as “died” rather than confusing phrases such as “gone to sleep”
  • Share your family’s religious or spiritual beliefs about death
  • Encourage questions and try to answer them honestly, directly, compassionately, and reassuringly

Find Ways to Honor and Remember a Loved One That Passed Away

Whether or not to attend the funeral depends solely on you and your child, as some children may not be ready for such an intensely emotional experience. According to Cancer.net, preschool-age and older children may be given the choice to attend memorial services, but they should never be forced to attend. Some children may want to participate in the service but not attend the viewing or burial. Finally, be sure to talk with children ahead of time about the memorial service and consider visiting a church or cemetery beforehand.

A few ways you can help a child remember a loved one include:

  • Encourage them to draw pictures of their loved one
  • Encourage them to write down their favorite stories of their loved one
  • Mention the person who died
  • Recall and share happy memories

Grief and Loss Support at Camp Caring

Since 1996, WV Caring has held a grief and loss camp to support West Virginia children who have lost a loved one. Campers discover that they can live life in a changing world with a new relationship with their loved one who has died.

Camp Caring focuses on children’s unique grief process by utilizing fun activities, trained counselors, art therapy and large and small group activities. The camp empowers each child to express their grief and successfully cope with the feelings of their loss.

This year due to COVID-19, Camp Caring has been redesigned as Camp In A Box. Camp In A Box has been done to ensure that children will receive the benefits of our bereavement camp in the safety of their own homes. The goal of Camp In A Box is to empower each child to express their grief and successfully cope with the feelings of loss and trauma.

If you are interested in Camp In A Box, please fill out an application, and someone from Camp Caring will be in contact with you.

Application Due Date: October 30, 2020

For questions, please call Kadie Baker, our Camp Caring Director, at (304) 599-4200 or email at kbaker@wvcaring.org.

Helping a Child Cope with Loss | WV Caring

Healing from the loss of a loved one can be a long and challenging process for anyone, no matter their age. At WV Caring, we understand that losing a loved one is incredibly difficult for a child. We want you to know that we are here for you and your children every step of the way. If you have questions about our services, contact us by calling 1-866-656-9790 or contact us online here.

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