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Helping Kids Through Grief

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Parents also need to be reassured that a child's anger and displays of emotion are normal and are part of the grieving process. Parents also should be encouraged to continue with family routines and discipline and to assure a child that he or she did not cause the death, nor could the child have prevented it.

Parents should consult with their child's pediatrician if grief is prolonged and may be referred for counseling if necessary. Signs of inappropriate grief include avoidance of feelings, repeated crying spells, suicidal thoughts, social withdrawal, and decline in school performance.

Although the events surrounding the death of a loved one can be traumatic for people of any age, funeral or memorial services may help children understand the finality of death. However, the pediatrics committee advises that if a child is going to attend or participate in such services, they should be prepared beforehand about what to expect. If it is clear that they may be upset by the experience, they should be given the option of not going.

Wolraich says while cultural traditions and family wishes should be respected, it is generally recommended that children under 5 or 6 not attend wakes or funerals. However, children of all ages should be encouraged to commemorate the loss in some manner, such as drawing pictures or planting a tree in the individual's memory.

To aid the grieving process, child psychology experts recommend the following books:

  • The Dead Bird, by Margaret Wise-Brown (for ages 3 to 5);
  • When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death, by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (for ages 4 to 8);
  • The Magic Moth, by Virginia Lee (for ages 10 to 12);
  • Beat the Turtle Drum, by Constance C. Greene (for ages 10 to 14).

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