Help Children Deal With the Death of a Grandparent

Mother and child with flowers mourn the death of a grandparent

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Many times the death of a grandparent is a child's first real brush with mortality. Dealing with loss can be difficult, but at the same time, a child can grow in maturity and understanding through this experience.

Helping  Your Child Grieve

Every child dealing with death needs the support of understanding adults. Parents, of course, have the primary role, but a grandparent can help a child understand the death of one of his or her other grandparents. Preschool and school-age grandchildren will need the most help, and the following suggestions may help:

  • Allow the child to grieve, but understand that for some children, real grief will be delayed.
  • Answer a child’s questions, but keep your answers brief and simple.
  • Be careful about associating death with sickness because the child may become very fearful about their own sicknesses.
  • Be careful about saying that someone died because he or she was old. The child may become fearful of losing other “old” people. When possible, present a positive picture of aging to your grandchild.
  • Be patient and consistent with answers if a child asks the same questions over and over.
  • Be sure that the child does not feel at fault.
  • Do not feel that you must provide all the answers.
  • Don’t confuse young ones by using euphemisms for death such as rest or sleep.
  • Help the child understand that the deceased is not going to “come back.”
  • Listen to what the child says and how they say it.
  • Reassure the child that death is not a form of punishment but is a part of life.

Funerals and Other Services

Opinions are divided over whether young children should attend funerals. Children need to be with their families during the grief process, but funerals can be overwhelming for young children. Sometimes attending a wake or visitation can be an acceptable substitute for attending the actual funeral.

If a child is going to attend a service, go over what will happen so that they will be prepared. If the child is going to attend a visitation or service with an open casket, let the child decide whether he or she wants to view the body. If so, arrange for it to be in the company of a calm adult. Prepare the child for the appearance of the body, saying that because the body is no longer working, it does not look the same. Allowing a child to place a picture or letter in the casket can be comforting.

Prepare the child for the fact that some people at the service will be crying, but others may be laughing and talking, and that is their way of remembering the deceased.

Death and Religion

One issue that can be tricky after a death is religion, especially for interfaith families or families with a mix of believers and non-believers. If a child has been raised in a religious household, parents will probably put death into a religious context. Grandparents should not contradict their views; that's a part of respecting boundaries.

Parents who have chosen not to put the death in such a context probably will not want others to do so. Besides, to introduce new ideas about God and the afterlife at such a traumatic time can be more confusing than consoling. In both cases, if a child asks difficult questions, it’s okay simply to say that you do not have all the answers.

Fear of Another Grandparent Death

Children who are dealing with the death of one individual often logically wonder if they will lose other people they love. Especially if you are a grandparent helping a child deal with the death of another grandparent, the child may anticipate that they will lose you as well. Saying something simple such as, “I expect to be here for a long time” is the best solution.

Continuing the Grief Process

Some children find comfort in the days following a death by looking at or even carrying around pictures of the loved one. A special toy or memento associated with the deceased can also be comforting. The child’s teachers or caregivers should be told about the death. A child going through the grief process may become anxious and clingy or angry and rebellious.

They may complain of physical symptoms such as a headache or stomachache or have trouble concentrating in school. These behavioral changes will probably go away in a matter of weeks. If they do not, the child may need to talk to a counselor. It's important not to let a taboo arise around the topic of the deceased person.

Don't be afraid to mention the person's name and share an occasional memory of him or her. This practice reinforces the concept that dying is a natural part of living rather than being something supernatural and scary.

Also, mentioning the name of the deceased provides an opening for your grandchild to talk about death, which can be healing. As time goes by, concentrate on providing your grandchild with a stress-free environment. Active play, humorous games and hanging out with cousins may help. Unconditional love is the best soother of all.

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Article Sources
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