Helping Your Child Grieve

When a parent or sibling dies, a child needs help.
"It helped me feel more comfortable talking about my feelings, and it felt nice knowing that I wasn't alone."
Pat (age 11):
Children's Grief
When a parent, brother or sister dies, a child may react with:
  • Shock and denial
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Guilt (feeling responsibility for causing the death)
  • Bodily distress (physical symptoms)
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Sadness and loneliness

Following a death, children may experience powerful and unfamiliar emotions. They may be unable to articulate these and they may create a feeling of isolation or separateness.

Part of the normal process of grief for children may include: demanding more involvement from adults, wishing for the deceased's return, and feeling anxious when a family member is late or away. Regressive behaviours such as loss of bowel and bladder control and temper tantrums are common. Poor schoolwork and attendance, changes in sleeping and eating, and fears of common illness may also occur.

Bereaved children have a strong need to know that their world will be maintained and that their needs will be taken care of by a supporting adult. Unfortunately, their usual family support may have crumbled as each member mourns the death.

How BFO-Toronto Supports a Child's Grief

Since 1985, Bereaved Families of Ontario has offered a unique group program sensitive to the grief experienced by children. We provide a safe place for your child to remember and to value the person who died. Our groups create opportunities for each child to explore the shock of death and the many changes that have occurred in their lives.

Our programs run for nine consecutive weeks with each session lasting an hour. The first and last sessions are for parents, to help them understand their child's reactions and offer guidance. The groups are divided into two ages: 6-9 years and 10-12 years. Whenever possible we hold separate groups for parent and sibling loss. Each group is run by two adults. One is a professional with expertise in child development and grief therapy. The other is a young adult who has lost a sibling or parent and is able to offer valuable insight from their own background.

Our experience shows that children are more able to benefit from groups after at least three months following the death. Some children are not ready until after a full year has passed, and others find groups helpful several years after the death.

There is no charge for this service.

Children Need To Know They're Not Alone

Children need to know that their feelings are normal. They need to find acceptance from others as they give voice to their uncomfortable thoughts. Valuable insights are gained from identifying with their peers. Because bereaved children often worry about their remaining family, they may hide their feelings to protect others. Groups provide an opportunity for questions to be answered and fears expressed where they are not causing pain to their families. The groups are often described by children as FUN.

"It was a great release for him and for us, his parents, to have him share his grief."
Mother of Jim (age 9)

Unresolved grief can sometimes be a source of problems. Bereaved Families helps children progress through the normal process of grieving so that they can gradually recover, heal and return to the tasks of healthy development. The children work to put the pieces back together and face life knowing that death is a part of life.

How You Can Help a Child
  • Children need simple answers. Listen carefully to their questions and answer directly and honestly.
  • Don't talk too much. Use real words like dead and died. Avoid euphemisms like gone away or sleeping -- which tend to create additional fears for the child.
  • Don't hide or deny your feelings or those of others. Your child knows the truth and may learn to hide important thoughts and feelings from you.
  • Do talk about the person who died. This shows their life had value and meaning.
  • Tell the child that death and grief are a normal part of life. Reassure them that they will survive their feelings.
  • Listen to your child.