Talking to your child about loss

By Jenna Kruse, LCSW

Youth First

While we want to protect our kids, unfortunately, one thing that we can never protect our children from is loss and death. We can, however, support them and have positive discussions with them.

We know that grief looks different for every person and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. After experiencing a loss, a child can experience very difficult emotions that can change drastically, and quickly. No matter what those feelings are, they are all part of the grieving process. It is normal for children to experience anger, sadness, guilt or anxiety. Very young children may even experience regression and begin baby talk or bed-wetting once again. 

While you cannot take the hurt away, providing a safe place for children to express their feelings is a healthy way of encouraging positive coping. Reading books about loss, allowing students to draw pictures, or sharing pictures and memories is another way to work through the difficult emotions they are experiencing. You may also incorporate discussion around family members in prayer; if that is a part of your family values. In addition, sticking to routines will naturally help regulate your child’s emotions, allowing them comfort in the “normal;” this will help children recognize that, while some things have changed, many things will still be the same. 

When talking to your student about death, be developmentally appropriate. Listen and provide answers to their questions instead of offering up too much information. Be clear and honest in your answers; if you cannot answer everything, just being available to listen and provide support will be the best thing you can offer your child. Be direct with your child when discussing death; using verbiage like “they went to sleep” can make your child fearful of bedtime.  

Deciding whether your child should attend the funeral is a big decision. Funerals can provide closure, but can also be very difficult for children. If your child is old enough, allow them to decide if they want to attend the funeral. Never force your child to attend a funeral if they do not feel comfortable. If your child does want to attend, prepare them for what they will see – the casket, if open, and people crying. 


Oftentimes, parents are so worried about supporting their child, that they do not process the grief they are experiencing. Modeling healthy coping skills and communication is a great way for children to learn that it is acceptable to have these difficult feelings and appropriate ways to handle them. If you ignore your own grief, your child will do the same. Disregarded guilt can affect your relationship with your child and family.


Death is a difficult thing for people of all ages. It can bring up emotions that are difficult, uncomfortable and linger in unexpected moments. Remember that the best support you can give your child at this time is a listening ear. If your child is having difficulty coping in a healthy way, reach out to your school’s Youth First social worker who can provide more resources to help you at home, as well as support your student at school. 


Jenna Kruse, LCSW, serves as Youth First Social Worker at Holy Rosary Catholic School in Evansville.