Myths About Helping Grieving Kids

Myth:  Kids and adults grieve in similar ways.

Fact:     Kids grieve through play and in short bursts, and their grief manifests itself depending upon where they are cognitively and developmentally. The rate in which kids grieve is much different than adults, and kids will often re-grieve at each and every developmental stage.

Myth:  It’s easier for kids to hear clichés like “passed away” or “went to heaven.”

Fact:     Clichés can cause confusion.  Using appropriate terms like died, cancer, heart attack, suicide and homicide/murder.

Myth:  Kids, especially young ones, should not attend funerals, memorials, or other types of death services.

Fact:   Kids grief needs to be honored, and they too need the opportunity to say goodbye. The role of adults is to prepare kids for what they may see and hear, and allow them to ask questions.   Don’t force a child to attend; however resistance may mean they are fearful of what they may experience.  Although difficult, open and honest dialogue is important. Help kids understand what is expected of them at the service, and assign a family friend who can help if younger children get restless.

Myth:  I won’t say or do the “right” thing.

Fact:  Doing nothing is far worse. Acknowledging kid’s grief honors their grief.   If appropriate, reassure the child the death was not their fault.

Myth:   Kids don’t want to talk about it.

Fact:  Often kids wish to talk about nothing else.  Remember that kids process emotions more slowly than adults, so when kids disconnect and want to do something else, it doesn’t always mean they are done processing what they are feeling.

Myth:   Kids need to be kept busy so they don’t think about “it.”

Fact:   A child’s grief will only be delayed if they are constantly busy, and they may believe they shouldn’t or aren’t allowed to feel what they do. 

Myth:   Getting rid of reminders helps.

Fact:   This message is confusing to kids, and may make them believe that it’s wrong to talk about the deceased.  Resentment can build and manifest in ways that is confusing to both the child and adult. 

Myth:    I shouldn’t cry or show my emotions around them.

Fact:   Kids will follow the lead of adults in their lives, and the child may believe it’s not appropriate to express their feelings, talk about the deceased or that the death was “wrong.” By stifling your emotions kids will sense your discomfort and feel hurt by their belief you don’t care.

Myth:   If kids aren’t asking questions, crying or actively expressing their grief in other ways, they aren’t grieving. 

Fact:   Kids often don’t know how to express their grief. They may not believe they are “allowed” to grieve or they may believe they must be “strong” for their family/siblings.  Their unique expressions may also differ from ones preconceived notions of what grief expressions “look” like.

Myth:   It’s morbid to touch the deceased.

Fact:   Death is part of life, and kids have a lot of questions that need honest and direct answersGive kids permission to touch if they desire, though explain how the person will feel.