Helping children mourn

Published 9:04 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2019

By Nathan Rice

I reached for my phone not knowing the message that came from the other end would hit me like a ton of bricks.

I sat down as my mind swirled and my heart broke. I placed the phone down as the tears began to flow. It was several hours before I stopped crying and was able to start thinking clearly. I realized at that point that this news would soon have to be shared with others, and my heart hurt even more as I thought about the kids who would soon hear what I had just been told. This was not going to be easy.

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Life is painful at times, and, unfortunately, tragic situations come into the lives of children. It is important for us to help children properly process their emotions when tragedy strikes.

First, we should let children know that it is OK to weep and to mourn. Younger children may be more likely to share their emotions, but sometimes those who are older feel they must be tough. They refuse to cry or admit they are hurting, trying to remain strong for those around them or believing that tears are a sign of weakness. We cannot help children mourn if we do not first let them know that it’s OK to do so.

Once the initial moments of shock are over, children should be told, in a way that they can understand, that grief often comes in stages and takes on many different forms.

Tell them there may times where they feel confused, angry or scared. There could even be times when they don’t know what they are feeling. All these feelings, as well as many more, can be a part of grief. This can help them know their mixed feelings and emotions are normal and may help them better process what they are going through.

Children should be informed that grief often comes in stages. A day will come when they begin to feel OK or are able to have fun once again, but this may be followed by a time of their great sadness being renewed. They should know this is normal. It’s OK to smile for a while and then cry. There’s no timeline for grief, and it has a way of creeping back after good moments. They need to know it’s acceptable to have fun and smile again, but that it’s also OK to weep again.

We should make sure children know that we are there for them during these times. It’s essential to ensure they know they are not alone and that we will be there for them anytime they need to talk, scream or cry. They may not always know what they need, so we should be the ones taking the initiative to check on them. Their actions, behavior and facial expressions may tell us more than their words. Keep a close eye on them and don’t be afraid to ask questions. They may need help discovering and understanding their emotions.

It’s also vital that we take care of ourselves during times of grief. An airline always tells you to put on your own oxygen mask in an emergency before helping others. Putting your oxygen mask on first ensures you can help those who need assistance. We will be unable to help children through the grieving process if we are not allowing ourselves to grieve.

We can get so caught up in helping others that we fail to allow ourselves to be supported. Other times, we use the help we’re trying to give the kids as a way to avoid our own emotions. Neither is ultimately helpful. We must grieve, too, if we really wish to help others. It’s OK to grieve together.

My ultimate advice, as a follower of Christ, is to tell the kids that the Lord is always there for them. The pain is real, and it’s hard to understand why some things happen, but the Father has promised to be close to those who are brokenhearted. Let the Father hold you and cry in His arms.

None of the things I’ve mentioned will make the grieving process easy. It will still hurt, but hopefully these things can help the youngest among us make it through the process.


Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at