Help Child Cope with Grandparent’s Death

Grief Crying ChildCoping with a death or any type of loss can be difficult for adults.  For a child, grief can be even more complicated and confusing, depending on their age, experience, and maturity level. If your child is acting out or withdrawn after a loss, the answer to this mother’s question may help your family through the grieving process.

Question: My Father-in-law passed away a few months back. He was a very dear family member to all of us, especially to my daughters, Rachel 6, and Nicole, 3. When he passed away all our emotions took over us – we were sad, crying, anxious of the future without him lonely, etc. Rachel cried for a few minutes seeing us cry but during the funeral she was ok, singing and doing her own thing.

It’s after a couple of weeks, and very abruptly she bursts into crying and tells us how much she misses him. I think now that he isn’t there in person for any occasion she has realized that she will never meet him or see him. I keep telling her to talk to him in prayer and ask him to ask over beloved father in heaven to grant our sincere favors.

I have noticed that she has started acting out and in some cases has stopped performing well in school. How do I help her cope with this death in the family? Please help. Thanks in advance for all your advice.

Sincerely,
Andrea

Answer: Dear Andrea,

Grief is a very individualized process. Not all of us will grieve in the same way or for the same length of time. It is a particularly complex process for children, based on their age and stage of development and understanding about death. Your daughter is only 6 years old; given her cognitive abilities at this age, her reactions seem very typical. I have listed a couple of articles that provide a great deal of information on the stages of the grieving process for young children that will hopefully put into context and perspective your daughter’s experience dealing with her loss.

Some additional thoughts:

Younger children do not usually have adequate language skills to express emotions of grief. Young children are their feelings – what they do with their bodies (how it is manifested – crying, stomach aches, acting out) is their grief. Art and play therapy are an effective way to get children to work out feelings of loss and come to terms of acceptance. Check out resources in your area for psychologists or child and adolescent therapists that specialize in art or play therapy.

  • Children’s grief support groups can also help in the healing process – many funeral homes or hospices may offers such groups for children.
  • Children often appreciate being offered pictures and possessions of the deceased person as a way of supporting their grieving process. Allow them to have clothing of the person, to play with objects and to have discussions about the person.
  • Take the child’s lead in how much information they are seeking and be honest (but sensitive) with your answers.
  • Check in with the child from time to time to see if she is requiring support or needing more information. Be open to discussion. If she feels that you do not want to talk about Grandpa then she may feel ashamed of her own grief and may suppress her feelings.

When a family member passes away it disrupts the dynamic of the entire family – she is probably sensing this difference and is feeling afraid. Make every effort to communicate to her that she is safe and that you and your husband are still there to take care of her.

When a child’s parent is crying and upset it makes a child feel uncertain about the parent’s ability to carry on in the way that the child is use to. That is not to say you should hide your grief – quite the contrary – it is healthy for her to see you express your emotions (in an appropriate way of course) so that she learns about the process of dealing with loss. You just have to make certain that at the same time you are experiencing your grief that you are reassuring her that you are there to help her.

My sincere condolences to you and your family.

Dyan Eybergen

Answer by Dyan Eybergen, author of Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child’s Perspective. Dyan is a paediatric psychiatric nurse and has more than ten years experience working as a therapist and parent educator.

Resources:

Grief and Children
Healing Children’s Grief

Comments

  1. It seems like yesterday, but it’s been nearly 2 years since my mother passed away. My son is three now, and obviously doesn’t remember her at all. My daughter is seven, and she had a difficult few months. Upon the advice of a counselor, we talked about Grandma, looked at pictures and videos, and discussed what it must be like in Heaven. It is so traumatic for children to lose a grandparent, especially one that lived nearby and shared in their lives on a regular basis. Good luck, Andrea. Time will heal.

  2. We Lost my FIL 4yrs ago.. To this Day we still have issues with our only boy.. He was papaw’s only grandson.. He and my son were thicker then thieves at times. He misses him terribly and wanders around His mamaw’s house in a daze still.. i have found time is the only thing that helps.. we talk and remember papaw often…

  3. My dad passed away just a little over a yearago and my 5 year old and 2 year old had a very difficult time. We talked about heaven and then sent him pictures and letters in helium ballons. The kids faces lite up again and htey were so happy to pick ballons just for him and watching them fly into the sky and disappear. We stil do this when they get down and relly miss him.

  4. When my grandfather past away in 1995 I had my son who was 5 write a letter to my grandfather. He wrote about all the good times they had together and the things they shared. He read the letter out loud to the family and that seemed to help him with him missing my grandfather. Just a thought

  5. Helen Kornick says:

    Our family experienced 6 loses in 2 years when our daughter was in 4-5th grade. It was at the same time as the tragic deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Di. The 4th and 5th grade curriculum has many tragic heros including dying parents and main characters. Our daughter started to say that dead people were everywhere! We talked to teachers about getting a heads up on upcoming events in reading assignments. We also allowed her to have special talking time with her deceased grandpa. We also had Heather talk with a counsellor who specialized in grief process for kids. There is also a program called Rainbows which is designed for kids experiencing grief from lost of death or divorce adn focuses on their emotions and relationships with their support network (family and friends). It is available through many school districts or faith communities.
    Sending you a hug and wishes for comfort and peace with your recent loss.
    Helen

  6. Steph Burns says:

    I lost my grandfather at the age of ten and I still have a hard time dealing with his absence from my life over 25 years later. Grandpa was my confidant my story teller my knight in shining armour. I still dream of him and I still talk of him often. My husband is the same astrological sign as my Grandpa and so often I experience warm suzzy moments as he will do or say something so similar to my grandfather that he feels close to me. Helping your daughter by telling her stories of her Grandpa and letting her build a memory base that she can recall in her own mind might help her to deal with his passing from her life. Allow her to visit his resting place so that she may be able to say goodbye. This may take a few times or maybe set aside a special day to go something she can look forward to so that she can store up stories to tell her grandfather. Remember though to give her time not to rush her or it will take longer to heal from her grief.

  7. Teresa Chumley says:

    My mother lived with us after my father died and shared in all that we did as a family. She died suddenly a year ago this month. My sons (14 and 12) gave her something to look forward to and talk about her and about how much we miss her. I have given them things that belonged to her and that seemed to help also.

    By now, many people think that the grieving process should be over. Don’t allow other people to rush your daughters into “getting over it.” Keep talking about him and your special memories so they don’t forget! Memories fade fast in children that young.

    My mother grieved for my father every single day since he died in 1996. I look forward to seeing them both again but am at peace knowing that they are together again enjoying paradise with each other.

    I am so sorry for your loss; God bless you and your family.

  8. Thank you for posting this and the replys. I lost my father to lung cancer on June 10th. This was a hard time as he was only 54. My daughter is 6 and seems to be coping fine but my 3yr old son is having a harder time. He cries out that he misses his papa and it is just heartbreaking. Michael Jackson passed soon afterward and even though we are not huge fans my son is always putting papa and Michael Jackson dying in the same sentence. I know time will heal this but seeing that there are others in the same situation is very helpful.

    Thank you again.

  9. My mother is in the processof passing away. I adopted my daughter late in life and my parents are very old. She never got to know them like I did. But, she has been with my mother every step of the way. Reading how everyone has coped with various deaths is helpful. My daughter seems so strong on the outside (14 years old) and out of the blue she exploses and screams and crys that her grandmother is dieing and life can’t get any worse. How do you take that hurt away, except hold them tight and get through it. This is a learning process for me as well. Prayer has been my saving grace. God bless you and your family in your time of need.

  10. I lost my father 4 yrs. ago, he was 74yrs. old. I have had a very difficult time with this loss. My daughter was 15 at the time and had prayed for God to heal her Grandpa. She confessed to me that she resents God for not healing her Grandpa. We are a close family that openly talks about my Dad and his death, but my daugther’s personality is one to keep her emotions to herself. Her behavior during her senior yr. in high school became very upsetting(casting all family values and beliefs away). For her 19th birthday, I made her a memory booklet with pictures of her and her Grandpa. She was very pleased with it and cried, but did not want to talk about it. Does anyone have any suggestions regarding teens and loss? Thank-you, Crystal

  11. I lost my Dad very suddenly on the 1st of August this year and after my 2 days of compassionate leave i returned to work and opened my email to find this particular article in my in box. What a blessing! I must admit that my world has been turned up-side-down and i i am really trying to deal with my Dads death myself and honestly am finding it difficult to console my son (aged 9). Thank you for all your replies – it really does help. To Andrea and family – i know what you are going through – it is a tough road, remember to be kind to yourself as well, i am sure time will heal and the hurt will fade but the memories never will – hold on to them tightly! Much love Vicki

  12. Marcella Hull says:

    I am worried about my 5 year old daughter. The day before her fifth b-day on fathers day my father died. She was very close to her grandpa he came over nearly everyday, she was the apple of his eye. Just recently she has started to act depressed it is almost been a year and she cries screams says she want’s to be 4 again. She says she does not want to get older and feels like she is going to explode… I’m at a loss I feel scared and hopeless.
    Any advice would be greatly appericated,
    Marcella

  13. My grandpa passed away this morning. I cried all morning because i won’t be seeing him again. The most painful part of it was the way my husband broke the news to me, he walked into the room i was and said ‘grandpa is dead’ and he walked out without looking back. i was shocked and i could not believe what he just said. I kept repeating the statement and i started crying when i realised my grandpa was gone forever. My husband never came back to console me because we had some misunderstanding the previous week(that is for another day). It is sad that i will never see my grandpa again.;-(