Column: Helping your child cope with death
Commentary by Sean Keller, MD
Coping with the loss of a family member or friend is difficult for anyone – especially children and adolescents. For parents trying to help their children deal with death, the situation becomes even more challenging when the parents themselves are also grieving the loss. Here are some strategies for helping your child cope:
Let your child know that grieving is OK. Don’t be afraid to let your child see you cry or show emotion, and be sure to let her know that grieving is acceptable.
Answer questions honestly. Children may have questions about death and dying. Unless there are unusual circumstances, it’s best to answer your child’s questions in an honest, direct, age-appropriate way.
Offer reassurance. Young children often have “magical thinking.” They may feel their own actions caused the family member’s death. You may hear things like, “I didn’t listen to Grandpa last week, so that’s why he died.”
Know the signs. Children often express grief through anger or silence. Teens may be more likely to engage in risky behavior, especially if they were very close to the person who died (parent, best friend).
Talk openly. Help your child find closure and acceptance by recalling good memories or looking through photos. Young children may benefit from creating artwork about the person who has died.
Seek help, if needed. If you feel your child (or an adult), is having difficulty moving forward after a death, consult your primary care physician.
Sean Keller, MD, specializes in internal medicine and pediatrics. He is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Internal Medicine & Pediatrics – IU Health Saxony Hospital, 13100 E. 136th St., Ste. 1200, in Fishers. He can be reached by calling the office at 678-3100.