Helping Children Express Their Grief

There are a number of strategies for helping children express their grief and related feelings. However, in reviewing these don’t lose sight of the most important component of all – YOU.

You are a person who cares and who reaches out to acknowledge their pain and wants to help. Your mistakes will be forgiven, your lack of knowledge forgotten when you are truly present for these children.

Self Awareness

  • Children learn to grieve from the attitudes, expressions and behaviors of the significant adults in their lives.

Invite/Acknowledge/Listen/Give Permission

  • Communicate your support, caring, availability in both verbal and nonverbal ways.
  • Give permission to grieve through sharing information, acknowledging reactions and feelings, providing various opportunities for expression.
  • Match their mode of expression in order to communicate.
  • Acknowledge and allow their plan: don’t overprotect or try to hurry them though it.
  • Be gentle and reassuring.
  • Your behavior, attitude and comfort level is more important than anything you can say.
  • Often, sitting quietly and listening is sufficient support.

Provide Information

  • Give simple, honest and age appropriate explanations about loss or death.
  • Fantasy is often more frightening than facts.
  • Use concrete, accurate terminology; no euphemisms.
  • Reassure children about normal grieving and individual responses.
  • Repeat information and give it over several sessions.

Check Out

  • What they already know about loss or death in general and this one is particular.
  • What they understand of your information and of words used by other adults.
  • Their fears and feelings (don’t make assumptions).
  • What they really mean by their comments and questions.
  • What would be helpful?

Maintain Structure and Routine

  • Provide firm, caring structure that allows some flexibility, as required by the individual child’s grieving process e.g. space and time to withdraw, to cry, etc.
  • Consistent rules and order are important.

Offer Opportunities to Create Rituals, Remember the Loss

  • Provide opportunities to say goodbye and let go in a concrete way, while still keeping the memory alive, these events make the loss or death real.


(c) American Hospice Foundation (2009).