Children and Grief: How to Cope

When a family member dies, children react differently from adults and usually see death as temporary and reversible, a belief reinforced by cartoon characters who die and come to life again.

The Hospice Foundation of America (HFA) provides suggested answers for helping your patients in coping with a grieving child’s questions about death in an open, honest way.

The American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry (AACAP) provides some quick links on child grief and counseling. When a family member dies, children react differently from adults and usually see death as temporary and reversible, a belief reinforced by cartoon characters who die and come to life again. Adding to a child's shock and confusion is the unavailability of other family members, who may be so shaken by grief that they are not able to cope with the normal responsibility of childcare.

Dr. Kenneth Doka of the HFA will discuss 10 new guidelines to help children deal with such grief after loss during HFA’s national teleconference on Wednesday, April 16 at 1:30PM(EST). The teleconference, Living With Grief®: Children and Adolescents, will be broadcast live via satellite and webcast to more than 1000 sites nationwide.

," says HFA president, David Abrams.

"The teleconference will focus on the most current theories and practices in this area, combining academic research with hands-on ideas

The teleconference will teach participants how to recognize situations that might engender grief in children and adolescents, identify the unique ways that grief is manifested in children and adolescents, and implement strategies to help grieving children and adolescents.

The teleconference's companion book,

, offers participants 20 chapters about the grieving process and therapeutic interventions.

Living With Grief®: Children and Adolescents

Guidelines to help

children and adolescents cope with their emerging awareness and understanding of death include:

  1. Don’t assume that children have no awareness of death;
  2. Accept that most children are naturally curious about death;
  3. Realize that death and loss are present in children’s fantasy lives;
  4. Be aware that healthy, normal children are likely to encounter death-related events in their own lives, and through the media and in the world around them;
  5. Appreciate that most children have thoughts and feelings about death, and that they make an effort to understand death when it enters their lives;
  6. Realize that the concept of death is not a simple and uncomplicated notion;
  7. Understand that children are not likely to grasp each of the central dimensions of the concept of death or all its implications at once;
  8. Realize that one good way—perhaps the only effective way—to gain insight into a child’s understanding of death is to establish a relationship of trust and confidence with the child and to listen carefully to the child’s comments, questions and concerns about death;
  9. Make sure to answer children’s questions about death in an honest,accurate and helpful way;
  10. Frame your answers and responses in ways that are suitable to the child’s capacities and needs. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”

Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, MDiv; Nancy Hogan, PhD, RN, FAAN; Rita Milburn-Dobson, MA, RNC, FT; Laura Olague, M.Ed., CT; Stacy Orloff, EdD; and J. William Worden, PhD, ABPP.

Moderated by CNN's Frank Sesno, teleconference panelists include

Parents should be aware of normal childhood responses to a death in the family, as well as signs when a child is having difficulty coping with grief. It is normal during the weeks following the death for some children to feel immediate grief or persist in the belief that the family member is still alive. However, long-term denial of the death or avoidance of grief can be emotionally unhealthy and can later lead to more severe problems. Once children accept the death, they are likely to display their feelings of sadness on and off over a long period of time, and often at unexpected moments.