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Childhood Grief: Guidelines for Caregivers

Speaking bluntly about death does not come naturally to most adults. Words like “dead” and “died” are rephrased and softened, becoming “passed on” or “no longer with us.” Talking too much about death, or asking too many questions, is taboo.

When it comes to children, the subject of death can feel even more sensitive. However, research tells us that our tendency to shield children from reality might be counter-productive. Talking to children about death in code and metaphor, or as something that needs to be quickly answered and dismissed, only serves to confuse.

The Childhood Grief: Guidelines for Caregivers worksheet includes brief research-based guidelines for talking to children, and helping them cope, with the death of a loved one.

This handout is designed for parents and caregivers who might not know how to approach this difficult subject, or who would like reassurance. Therapy can be used to practice these conversations, or identify and problem-solve guidelines that might be difficult to implement.

For more help teaching childen about grief, try our digital story:

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References

1. Christ, G. H., & Christ, A. E. (2006). Current approaches to helping children cope with a parent's terminal illness. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 56(4), 197-212.

2. Christ, G. H., Siegel, K., & Christ, A. E. (2002). Adolescent grief: It never really hit me... until it actually happened. Jama, 288(10), 1269-1278.

3. Cohen, J. A., & Mannarino, A. P. (2011). Supporting children with traumatic grief: What educators need to know. School Psychology International, 32(2), 117-131.

4. Heath, M. A., Leavy, D., Hansen, K., Ryan, K., Lawrence, L., & Sonntag, A. G. (2008). Coping with grief: Guidelines and resources for assisting children. Intervention in School and Clinic, 43(5), 259-269.

5. Lawrence, E., Jeglic, E. L., Matthews, L. T., & Pepper, C. M. (2006). Gender differences in grief reactions following the death of a parent. OMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying, 52(4), 323-337.

6. Melhem, N. M., Porta, G., Shamseddeen, W., Payne, M. W., & Brent, D. A. (2011). Grief in children and adolescents bereaved by sudden parental death. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(9), 911-919.

7. Saldinger, A., Porterfield, K., & Cain, A. C. (2004). Meeting the needs of parentally bereaved children: a framework for child–centered parenting. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 67(4), 331-352.

8. Slaughter, V., & Griffiths, M. (2007). Death understanding and fear of death in young children. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 12(4), 525-535.

9. Young, I. T., Iglewicz, A., Glorioso, D., Lanouette, N., Seay, K., Ilapakurti, M., & Zisook, S. (2012). Suicide bereavement and complicated grief. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 14(2), 177.

10. Young, M. A. (1996). Working with grieving children after violent death: A guidebook for crime victim assistance professionals. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime.

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