GriefSee more Topics Español
Grief is complex; it encompasses a wide range of emotions that can come and go in waves. Use these tips, videos, children's story, and guide to help your family communicate with one another, express emotions, and begin the process of moving forward. You are not alone. And with time, you and your family will experience new happy moments together.
Grieving as a Family: Finding Comfort Together
Explaining What Happened
Your child may need concrete explanations of what death is. For example, in a gentle way, you might say, "When a person dies, his or her body stops working. The heart stops beating and the body stops moving, eating, and breathing." Sometimes, young children may not understand that death is permanent and will ask questions like, "When is Daddy coming back?" or make statements like, "I am going to show Mommy my new picture." Continue to be concrete in your explanation. Use words like "died" and "dead," rather than "went to sleep," "your loss," or "passed away." While these phrases may seem gentler, they may also be confusing. Since young children often think literally, they may assume, for instance, that if others look hard enough, a "lost" parent could be found.
For some help with explaining death to your child, watch the video Talking About Uncle Jack" and use the conversation between Elmo and his dad as a model.
Letting Emotions Out
Children may experience a wide range of feelings — anger, sadness, hopelessness, disappointment, confusion, loneliness, guilt, worry — but they may not always have the words to identify these emotions. Assure your child over and over that everyone, including yourself, has big feelings, and there are no feelings too big — or too little — to talk about.
Watch Together:"Give Your Heart a Little Time"
Talk Together: What feelings did Elmo and Jesse express in the song?
Consider these strategies:
Watch Together: "Expressing Emotions"
Talk Together: What types of things do you do to express your emotions?
Communicating and Connecting as a Family
There are many ways you and your family can connect with each other during these difficult times. Try some of these ideas:
Watch Together: "You Can Talk to Me"
Do Together: Which family members can you talk to about your feelings?
Sharing Memories and Moving Forward
At some point you may notice that you and your family are taking "grief breaks," or moments when you forget your sadness. Slowly, a new family story will begin to emerge through your family's ups and downs. Give yourself and your children permission to feel happy again. Be assured that the memory of your loved one can live on in the hearts of your family. Celebrating your loved one's life and important place in the family can be a meaningful way to begin to move forward. Here are a few ideas:
Watch Together: "The Memory Box"
Talk Together: What would you put in a memory box?
As your family heals, you can begin to think about the future in a positive way. Remember, you can still have fun and love the person who died.
When Families Grieve Parent/Caregiver Guide
Additional information and strategies to help your family cope with grief.
When Families Grieve Facilitator Guide
For those who provide direct support and services, adaptable ideas for use in group settings or to help provide one-on-one support.
Links to a wealth of resources to help support you and your family.
When Families Grieve Initiative Page
Watch the televised special, hosted by Katie Couric, and find more information about the When Families Grieve project.
To request When Families Grieve kits, please contact us at email@example.com
- We may not always be prepared for the big questions our children will throw at us. Sadly, death is a part of life and we can't fully protect Tyler or Charlotte from all of life's painful or scary experiences. No one can prepare for true loss at any age, but we do hope to offer our children a safe place to share their feelings and give them the strength and skills to handle all of life's curve balls.—Vivien Mazlen Levy