Supporting Children in Grief as a Clinician: Early Childhood (Birth to 5 years)

We hear a lot from folks about how they don’t know what to say or do for kids and teens when someone has died. Many folks are also unsure if a child is grieving “right.” Check out the tips below that can help you gain a better understanding of what grief looks like for children 0 to 5 years of age, what you can say to them to help, and how their grief looks different than an adult’s.

Common Grief Reactions

  • Child will respond to family’s reactions
  • Understand that changes will happen as child gains more language (going from pre-verbal to verbal)
  • Pre-verbal reactions may be expressed in the body
  • Repetitive questions and behaviors are common

Appropriate ways to speak with a grieving child

  • Label emotions as the child gains more language (i.e. I feel sad, I’m glad)
  • Think of the little one’s behavior as communication
  • Be honest, and use child-friendly language
  • Younger children may believe that loss is somehow their fault, let them know it is not
  • It’s okay if you don’t always have the answer

Activities

  • Parent/child dyad activities
  • Reading age-appropriate books about loss
  • Feelings identification, such as matching feelings words with an action
  • Model healthy expression of emotions

Things to Remember

  • Children’s grief is informed by one’s culture, religion, and race
  • Maintain a level of curiosity with the child’s experience in grief
  • There are no “5 Stages”; grief is a non-linear process
  • Grief and grieving changes over time

A Message from The Jewish Board

If you or someone you love lives in the New York metropolitan area and need help coping with grief and loss, we can help. Call us at 1.844.ONE.CALL to speak with an intake specialist. You can also contact our Loss and Bereavement Team by emailing griefsupport@jbfcs.org, calling 212.632.4692, or filling out our referral form.