How to Help Kids with Grief and Loss

kids grief claire bidwell smith

Today I want to talk about kids and grief. Our children will inevitably experience loss. Sometimes it is directly – the loss of a friend or family member, and sometimes it is peripheral – witnessing a classmate lose someone or becoming aware of a national tragedy. Death is a complicated concept for children to comprehend. They feel it on a visceral, emotional level, but they are not quite able to understand it on a cognitive level.

When we experience loss as adults we not only feel it deeply, but we take in the big picture in such a way that it makes the pain even sharper. Often children cannot even comprehend that they will truly never see the deceased person again. They are not able to foresee all that their lives will look like as a result of the loss, and cannot imagine the important milestones and life moments a deceased person will miss. Instead, children and adolescents are very much in the moment. What does it look like right now to have the person gone? What does it feel like in this moment?

The best thing you can do is meet them exactly where they are. Talking about the loss with them in very simple and direct terms is helpful. Taking time to answer their questions, even if sometimes you have to say, “I don’t know” as a response is important. Use clear language and allow them the time to come and go from their own thoughts. Simply providing space for them to process it in whatever way they do is vital. Giving them permission to feel everything they feel and providing a non-judgemental space in which they can explore their thoughts will benefit them greatly.

Lastly, teaching them about ritual or helping them find ways to memorialize the person is incredibly helpful. Check out Allison Gilbert’s Passed and Present for creative ideas on memorializing objects belonging to loved ones.

And here is a list of some of my favorite children’s books that really help open up conversation and understanding around death:

The Elephant in the Room

Meet Me at the Moon

What’s Heaven?

Where are you?


The Invisible String

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf

I know it can be intimidating to talk with your kids about grief. For some it can open up your own grief in ways you’re not ready to confront. For others it can be scary to not have all the answers. But again, simply providing space for them to process their own thoughts and fears provides enormous healing.