Understanding Children's Grief: How It Differs from Adults

Children can be especially affected by the loss of a loved one, but they don’t always have the ability to process their feelings during such a heartbreaking and emotional time. 

Parents and other adults play a pivotal role in helping children cope and navigate the grieving process, which can be as scary as it is unfamiliar to them. It’s important to approach funerals and memorial services as a way of supporting a child’s individual needs and setting them up for healing.

Kelly Carey, who oversees operations at Codey and Mackey Funeral Home in Boonton and Codey Funeral Home in Caldwell, recently discussed

ways parents can help their children during the loss of a loved one. 

How Does a Child’s Grief Differ from an Adult’s? 

For adults, Kelly says, death is understandable. They accept the inevitability of it. Younger children, however, may have difficulty wrapping their minds around the concept of death. They may struggle with the idea they’ll never see their loved one again. According to the Child Mind Institute, children “may go from crying one minute to playing the next.” This doesn’t mean they’re not grieving, but that they can only deal with their overwhelming emotions in snippets. 

Should Children Attend the Funeral? 

“Deciding whether to bring a child to the funeral or memorial service depends on the child,” Kelly says. “Are they mature enough to understand what’s going on? Will the funeral help them heal? If so, the child should be present. Funerals can help them get closure.”

If parents aren’t sure whether their child should attend a funeral, a good practice is to ask. Offer them the choice of attending or staying at home. Listen to their response and respect their decision. 

How Can Parents Help Children with Grief? 

Being available emotionally and physically is key. Communicating on their level is necessary to help them understand and cope with what may be completely foreign emotions. Kelly says one of the main ways to help is to “keep it simple. Answer the child’s questions, but don’t overwhelm them with in-depth explanations of death.” 

Children may not be able to convey their thoughts in words. Set aside time to draw pictures or look through photo albums as nonverbal ways for them to communicate and process feelings. 

“Avoid telling them to stop crying or to smile,” says Kelly. “It’s important that children—and everyone—be allowed and encouraged to grieve in their own way, on their own timeline.” 

Providing consistent, sympathetic support for grieving children is a delicate endeavor. By being approachable and sensitive, parents can alleviate some of the stress a loved one’s death brings to a child and help them process and heal. 

For more information on supporting children during funerals and grief, contact us at Codey & Mackey Funeral Home at (973) 334-5252