Seven Ways to Help Children Who Are Grieving

“Why did GiGi have to die?” “I really miss my daddy!” “Why did my mommy have to go to live in heaven? I need her here with me!” “My brother was the best brother ever.” All of these are real statements I have heard from preschoolers and young children in my church over the past 2 years. Grandparents, mothers, fathers, siblings. Our preschoolers and young children have experienced significant losses. And, we have struggled to help them through their grief.

I pray that the following suggestions will be helpful when you are called on to minister to preschoolers who are dealing with death:

  • Use correct terminology. Symbolic language is confusing and frightening to preschoolers. These preschoolers’ loved ones are not lost; your preschooler cannot find them. They did not go to sleep; your preschooler cannot wake them up. They did not pass away; your preschooler cannot bring them back. Speaking the words died and death give your preschooler concrete words for what has happened.
  • Create a safe environment for preschoolers to talk. Don’t judge their words. They will say things that are not “theologically correct.” This is not a time to lecture. It is a time to listen. Theological correctness can come later. Right now, your preschooler needs to be heard.
  • Give grieving preschoolers time to be sad. Don’t try to cheer them up. Let him cry. Let her be silent. Well-meaning sentences like “You’ll get over this in time,” or “Don’t cry, it will get better soon,” minimize their feelings. In the present moment, their grief is physically and emotionally painful.
  • Plan for changes in behavior. Anger may prompt them to be unkind or short-tempered. They may regress in developmental milestones like toilet-training or speech patterns. They may show jealousy toward other children. When these behaviors occur, exhibit grace and love. In my experience, demonstrations of love quickly defuse the anger.
  • Allow them to ask questions. And, don’t try to give them all the answers. Help them answer their own questions, by asking open-ended questions: “How do you feel about that?” “What does that make you think?” “What is it like when . . . ?”
  • Acknowledge their fears. Some common fears are: “Who will take care of me now?” “If I get sick, will I die?” “Did I pray the wrong way?” “If I had been better/nicer/kinder, my mommy might not have died.” Reassure them that God has placed adults in their lives who care for them.
  • Provide tangible ways for expressing their grief. We have given our children memory boxes with art supplies. They fill the boxes with items that help them remember their loved one and create art to show what they are feeling. Some families create journals together. Preschoolers can draw pictures and dictate their words to an adult scribe.

Whether a death is due to a terminal illness, natural causes, an accident, or is self-inflicted, grief is intensely painful. Young children haven’t developed coping mechanisms for working through it. Many studies tell us that a child’s ability to navigate grief successfully is dependent on having adults who support and encourage them. Never feel inadequate to the task. As you pray for and with these children, find your own encouragement in the knowledge that God’s grace is sufficient for us and that His power is perfected in our weakness (see 2 Cor. 12:9).

Age Level: 
Back to Top